The Yukon doesn’t want Dawson’s new sewage lagoon on Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation land because it doesn’t want to enter a lease agreement with the aboriginal government.
“Tr’ondek Hwech’in land is not town land, and having a lease agreement could be a little challenging,” said government engineer Kriss Sarson who has been spearheading the Dawson lagoon project.
“Like any agreement, a lease or a contract, it can be broken.”
A lease is a lease, is a lease, said Otto Cutts, the First Nation’s executive director.
“We stand beside an agreement,” he said. “We have some honour here and to suggest that we would break a lease is really an insult to our integrity.”
The government wants the lagoon built on valuable commercial land next to the town’s ball diamonds, said Cutts.
The government should consider the Tr’ondek Hwech’in proposal of land across the Klondike River south of Dawson, said New Democrat Steve Cardiff in the legislature on Tuesday.
“The site location that we have now is the one that turned out to be most suitable,” because it belongs to Dawson, responded Community Services Minister Glenn Hart.
When the government was scouting, it found four suitable sites. One of them was on Tr’ondek Hwech’in land.
The site the government now favours was not one of the four sites, said Cutts.
The Tr’ondek Hwech’in pulled its land out of consideration after seeing the other three Dawson sites.
That decision has been rescinded because of the controversy surrounding the new site.
The chosen site is above the town’s water supply and there is worry it could be contaminated if there were a leak in the liner or a break in lagoon barriers, said Cardiff, who was recently in Dawson to listen to resident concerns.
“Have the minister or his officials had any discussion with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in about this offer, or is this another situation where the government has its mind made up and it isn’t open to any other ideas?” asked Cardiff in the legislature.
“We don’t have time, the end of June is coming,” said Hart.
“We have to have our application in to the (Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board) in order to look like we’re moving forward on this project when we appear before the judge.”
The territory and Dawson have been scrambling to find a suitable lagoon site since 2003, when the town was fined $5,000 for dumping raw sewage into the Yukon River.
The town was hit with a court order to have secondary sewage treatment in place by 2008.
On June 28, the town must show the court that progress has been made.
“Well, we’ve heard this government’s argument about not building on First Nations land before, and I hope that’s not part of the issue here,” said Cardiff in the legislature.
The current site is close to town and easily serviced by water, power and sewer lines, reducing the capital costs, said Sarson.
The Tr’ondek Hwech’in site is elevated, would require sewage pumping, a river crossing and road construction.
This would increase the capital and operation costs, he said.