Reversing the position they had taken just three months ago, the federal government is now approving the Coffee Gold Mine Project.
An October 2021 screening report from the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) executive committee stated that, in their view, the project would not have adverse affects for the area and could proceed without further review from them. The executive committee’s recommendation came with a list of proposed steps to mitigate potential harm.
In December 2021, Transport Canada, the federal agency tasked with approving or denying the project, sent it back to YESAB for further consideration. At the time, the feds asked for a further exchange of information about the projects cumulative effects.
That decision was reversed in early March as the Yukon government, the federal government and affected First Nations announced a decision to accept YESAB’s initial recommendation that the project be allowed to proceed.
Premier Sandy Silver praised the effectiveness of the YESAB process in allowing the mine project to proceed as well as the employment it will provide. According to the Yukon government, the project will include a camp for up to 400 workers and during the peak of construction will provide nearly 700 jobs.
The project in question is an open-pit gold mine complex owned by the Newmont Corporation 130 km south of Dawson City. It will be accessed by a road that will be more than 200 km long when complete. Access controls for the road are part of the mitigation measures proposed by the executive committee.
“Prior to issuing a decision, the Government of Yukon consulted with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Government, Selkirk First Nation, White River First Nation and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun,” a Yukon government statement on the mine’s approval reads.
‘The Yukon government looks forward to further engagement and consultation with these First Nation governments as regulatory approvals related to the project are considered.”
A statement signed by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in chief Roberta Joseph speaks to the First Nation’s consultation with both Newmont Gold Corp and the approval of the project.
“Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Government and Citizens have extensively engaged with the various proponents of the Coffee Gold Project — more recently Newmont Gold Corp — for several years,” the statement from Joseph reads.
Joseph states that work will continue to ensure that efforts to mitigate the project’s effects are put in place going forward.
The federal decision document states that all of the affected First Nations have voiced concerns with the cumulative effects of the project, particularly with the proposed road to the mine, referred to as the Northern Access Road (NAR) in the document.
The decision document states that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in commented during the YESAB process that they do not believe the mitigation measures proposed by YESAB’s executive committee are the full answer to addressing the project’s impacts to the First Nation’s rights and traditional land use.
Comments from Selkirk First Nation noted in the decision document express concerns about the greater access to the area that the new road will allow.
“SFN stated the NAR will radically alter ease of access, which will increase the disturbance to habitats and lead to displacement of wildlife and displacement of SFN members due to: construction, noise and dust; inducement of new mining activity; and, introduction of recreational users into the traditional lands and water of SFN members,” the decision document reads.
The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun’s comments included questions about the project developers’ contingency plan for spills and about emissions and climate change concerns relating to the project.
White River First Nation requested clarification on the project’s scope and about the process for future consultation with them if the access road is not decommissioned as planned.
Art Webster, formerly a leading figure in land-use planning for the Dawson region, thinks that YESAB should be taking a closer look at the access road before it is allowed to proceed. Webster was the vice-chair of the Dawson Regional Land Use Planning Commission but resigned from the role two years ago after the Yukon government would not temporarily halt the staking of mining claims in the area until after the land use plan the commission was working on was complete.
“The inevitable conclusion is the NAR will become a major piece of critical infrastructure that will bring transformational change to a large region of the territory that was until recently defined as wilderness. Thus it is imperative that the Northern Access Route be subjected to a comprehensive review by YESAB as a project separate from and independent of the Coffee Creek Mine project,” Webster wrote in an email to the News.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com