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Environment Yukon rejects herbicide plans

Environment Yukon has denied White Pass & Yukon Route’s application to spray herbicide along the Yukon portion of its railroad tracks.

Environment Yukon has denied White Pass & Yukon Route’s application to spray herbicide along the Yukon portion of its railroad tracks.

In a decision released Wednesday, the department said it could not be sure the company could keep herbicide runoff out of nearby water bodies, including Bennett Lake.

The company’s application proposed a 15-metre buffer near water bodies.

But given the abundance of water nearby, only 40 per cent of the right-of-way could have been treated, the department said.

“The government of Yukon is not confident that this buffer zone will adequately protect either the aquatic environment or terrestrial habitat outside of the right-of-way,” the department said on its website.

“The proposed method for identifying and protecting the 15-metre buffer is unsatisfactory, as it would depend on the applicators’ line of sight, individual judgement and inadequate maps.”

The company has until Aug. 10 to re-submit its application if it addresses concerns the department raised.

On Thursday a spokesperson for the company wouldn’t say whether the company would do so.

“We’re in the process of taking a look at (the decision),” Tyler Rose said.

Alaska and B.C. approved similar applications for sections of the railroad tracks that go through those two jurisdictions.

But in B.C., projects under 20 hectares are exempt from the environmental review process.

“The applicator, all they had to do was ensure they were licensed and commit to following the minimum requirements,” said Jennifer Dagg, Environment Yukon’s manager of standards and approvals.

Yukon has no such exemption.

The company first applied in 2014 to spray herbicide but later withdrew its application due to public concerns over one of the chemicals, glyphosate, used in the proposed products.

The herbicide WP & YR is spraying in Alaska and B.C. and wants to use in Yukon also contains glyphosate. It’s approved for use in Canada.

The company applied again in May saying it had taken time to review what was being done elsewhere.

Using herbicide is both cost-effective and efficient, the company argued.

Railroad companies are required to keep railway tracks clear of weeds.

Weeds can prevent maintenance workers from seeing potential railway defects and roots can make the tracks unstable, Rose told the News in a previous interview.

Up until now, WP & YR said it has been using mechanical means, meaning sending people to chop down vegetation.

That requires a lot more work and a lot more money.

But Rose said that despite people “fixating” on the cost issue, it’s also about efficiency.

“It’s not effective because it doesn’t infiltrate the root system,” he said about chopping the weeds down.

Spraying the entire right of way would only take one day, he said, with the machinery mounted on a flat car hooked to the train.

Environment Yukon also noted it took into account 45 submissions, and “significant” public and First Nation concerns raised about a potential contamination of drinkable water and its effects on animals.

“We are not confident those concerns could be mitigated, based on the project, as proposed,” the department said.

For opponents of the application, the risk the herbicide could accidentally contaminate drinkable water is too great.

“The town of Carcross gets its drinking water from Lake Bennett, and the railway is right beside Lake Bennett,” said Carcross resident Keith Seaboyer.

He questioned whether the company really needed to change the way it weeds out the tracks.

“They’ve been using those (mechanical) means for the past 100 years,” he said.

The wind direction in Carcross changes almost hourly, he added. That would blow the herbicide past the buffer zone.

The company took part in two meetings, Rose said, and company representatives answered questions for two hours at the second meeting.

Seaboyer disagreed with Rose’s claim the company answered the residents’ questions.

“They came to one meeting in June, they stated their positions and they left a lot of questions unanswered,” he said.

The same was true of a second meeting the company held in July, Seaboyer said.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at