Atlin residents are celebrating victory in their fight against Yukon Energy’s plans to partly block the Atlin River.
Yesterday, the British Columbia government and Taku River Tlingit First Nation announced the completion of a land-use plan for the area. The plan protects the river from most developments, including Yukon Energy’s plan to build a submerged structure, called a weir.
“I think this puts a cap on it,” said Wayne Merry, president of the Protect Atlin Lake Society. “I think the fight’s over.”
An email from BC’s Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation confirms as much.
“This land-use decision will preclude Yukon Energy Corporation’s project on the Atlin River,” it states.
“The Atlin community clearly articulated its interests in seeing this area protected. In addition, it was likely that BC would not have allowed the project given the likelihood it would contravene the BC Park Act.”
Nearly half of the water that flows through the Whitehorse dam originates in Atlin. Yukon Energy wanted to keep back some of that water for the cold winter months, as an alternative to burning expensive and dirty diesel fuel.
But this plan proved widely unpopular in Atlin. Over the past year, half the town has signed up to join Merry’s group to oppose the project.
Residents worry that keeping the waters of Atlin Lake high would cause flooding and shoreline erosion. Concerns were also raised about whether the changes would harm fish and other aquatic animals.
“It would have been environmentally disastrous for the lake and river,” said resident Jan Harvey.
It didn’t help matters that Atlin residents would not have directly benefitted from the project. The town of about 400 is already provided with more hydroelectricity than it needs from a run-of-the-river project operated by its local First Nation.
Even before the land-use plan came down, it looked unlikely that Yukon Energy would receive a green light for their project. Because one-third of Atlin Lake is within a class-A provincial park, Yukon Energy would likely need a special permit to build its project.
BC’s former Environment minister, Murray Coell, warned in a letter in January that “the project will be closely scrutinized, and will only proceed if it can be shown that the benefits outweigh any impact on the ecology of Atlin Lake and the surrounding areas.”
Yukon Energy estimated that building the weir would have saved nearly $5 million annually in diesel costs and offset the production of up to 12,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases. But, even if it succeeded, the project would have only provided a small amount of the electricity needed to fill the Yukon’s looming energy deficit.
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