Dawson planners gear up

The team responsible for Yukon's next land-use plan has only two more years to get it all done, said Scott Casselman, chair of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission.

The team responsible for Yukon’s next land-use plan has only two more years to get it all done, said Scott Casselman, chair of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission.

The mandate and budget of the commission is for three years, he said, adding that they started looking into the plan’s issues in January 2011.

The goal is to have a plan to the territorial and First Nation governments by the end of December 2013.

“We’re on track right now but we’re also now starting to get into the more serious issues,” said Casselman.

But the contract geologist doesn’t foresee the Dawson plan getting anywhere near as controversial as the Peel plan became.

That’s partly because, if they stick to the schedule, deciding on the plan shouldn’t fall in the middle of an election.

And it’s partly because much of the Dawson planning region has already been developed, unlike the near-pristine, Scotland-sized swath of the Peel Watershed.

“The Dawson region and the Peel region are two very different regions,” he said. “It’s fairly obvious the amount of development and the footprint in Dawson from all the activities from over 100 years of industrial use are quite different.”

But Casselman expects to hear strong support for conserving the undeveloped land that does still exist, he said.

“I’m not worried about having a shortage of issues,” he said with a chuckle.

The White Gold exploration rush should be enough to keep any planner tasked with balancing industrial development and environmental conservation busy.

“Is the cumulative effects of all of that activity … getting overwhelming for the terrain?” Casselman posed as a main question facing the commission.

But the six-member team has caught a few breaks.

The area they are responsible for is contained within the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s traditional territory, extending to the Alaska border on the west, and abutting the Peel plan region to the North and East. To the south, it includes the Klondike and White Gold fields to the Stewart and White Rivers.

While that area encompasses Tombstone Territorial Park and the municipality of Dawson, the plan will decide on anything within those two districts.

That means the controversial Slinky Mine, located within the town of Dawson City, and Canadian United Minerals’ contentious claims within Tombstone, are both outside of the commission’s hands.

But they may have to grapple with is the possible expansion of municipal borders, which is being considered as the town continues to grow, Casselman added.

The planning commission has already discovered the Yukon River will be a big issue they’ll have to tackle.

“In all of our meetings, it really became noticeable to me and the other commission members that fish and water were at the tops of a lot of people’s minds,” he said. Challenges include “getting the fish stocks back up to greater levels but also the need to ensure that the water quality is maintained in perpetuity.”

Casselman is joined by two other territorial government picks: forester and Dawson businessman Bill Bowie and placer miner Will Fellers, who is a born and raised Dawsonite.

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in government has also filled three seats on the commission. They include Steve Taylor, former chief and current councillor and member of the Peel planning commission; Chester Kelly, surveyor and renowned community athlete; and Roger Ellis, an elder with 35 years experience in drafting, mapping, land issues and land claims.

Currently, the commission is waiting for resources from the First Nation and territorial governments. This includes any maps and reports of animal habitats, migration patterns and ecosystems, staking maps, mineral-potential areas, hunting and trapping concessions and conservation areas. They may also take in anything offered by members of the public and private organizations, said Casselman.

The commission hopes to have all its resources by February, with an assessment of it set to be done in May or June, Casselman said. The commission can also collect its own data, if it can afford to in their budget, he said.

“But we do have parties with deep pockets so what we could do is put that pressure on the territorial government or First Nations government, if there was a particular issue that came out,” said Casselman. “They have done that in previous plans, in particular the North Yukon. We have benefitted from the North Yukon and the Peel plans going before us. A lot has been learned.”

And that includes submitting a scenario that will actually be accepted.

“Having seen where we’re at with the Peel now, I think all of the commission members really want to produce a plan that is acceptable by the parties.

“I don’t have rose-coloured glasses on; I don’t think everyone will love us when this is done. But we really want to produce a good plan that is acceptable, because if it gets thrown on the shelf it’ll be no good to anybody.”

There may be a small overlap between the Dawson and Peel plans. But, other than that, the Dawson plan isn’t really affected by the fate of the Peel, said Casselman.

So far only one plan, in North Yukon, has been drafted and signed in the territory.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com