Government gives green light to two conflicting projects

Jim Taggart may not live on the Midnight Dome, but the Dawson resident doesn't like the government's decision to approve a placer mine that extends into an existing 74-home subdivison.

Jim Taggart may not live on the Midnight Dome, but the Dawson resident doesn’t like the government’s decision to approve a placer mine that extends into an existing 74-home subdivison.

Worse, the government has ignored the concerns of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, which recommended against the mine after an in-depth review of Darrell Carey’s proposed Slinky gold mine.

“It was a disappointment frankly,” said Taggart, who lives in downtown Dawson, referring to the government’s decision.

“To say that the social impacts are not significantly adverse is hard to understand considering the level of detail YESAB went into to say the project shouldn’t proceed.”

Mines don’t belong smack in the middle of town, said Taggart in a previous interview, citing noise and safety concerns.

The government doesn’t share those concerns.

Tuesday, Energy, Mines and Resources rejected the assessment board’s findings the project should not proceed. The board ruled the operation would have significant effects on nearby residents’ quality of life and will lower housing prices in the area.

The proposed mine – which Carey wants to operate for up to 10 years – is a collection of 19 separate claims he’s held on the lower portion of the Midnight Dome since 1998 and 1999. Some of those claims overlap existing housing lots.

The government asserts housing prices won’t be affected and any adverse effects aren’t significant enough to deny Carey his legal right to mine.

The environmental board has the role of determining effects, not making decisions, development assessment director Cynthia Tucker told a news conference Wednesday.

“We’ve chosen to allow the (project) to go ahead to the next stage because we think any effects (the board has brought up) can be mitigated.”

Before Carey can begin operation, he needs Yukon Water Board approval.

Complicating things is the fact that the government has, at the same time, approved a subdivision in the area.

In November, Community Services applied to build 14 residential lots on the lower Midnight Dome.

The environmental and socio-economic assessment board rejected that proposal also, on the grounds that it would affect the livelihoods of the miners who own claims on that land.

By approving both projects the government is avoiding a potential stalemate over conflicting land uses, said Tucker.

“What we’ve done at this point is allow the opportunity for further discussion to occur.”

Essentially, the government is buying time before it decides what it will do with the land.

“Most people in town are really wondering what’s going to happen next,” said Dawson Councillor Wayne Potoroka.

“You’ve got a mining project supposed to occur on top of a subdivision and vice versa. I’m not certain how that’s going to work.”

He’s looking forward to discussing the issue with Community Services in a meeting scheduled to happen in early April, he said.

There’s no plans yet as to when the subdivision could be built, said Community Services spokesperson Matt King.

“But we acknowledge that the subdivision and the mining project cannot happen in the same time and space.”

The government’s decision to ignore assessment board recommendations has angered some residents.

“The amount of submissions to YESAB were overwhelming,” said former Dawson mayor John Steins.

“For the government to just sit back and throw their feet up on the desk and take the easy way out, despite the fact that more than 80 people wrote in – most of whom objected – is unacceptable.”

The government’s rationale to approve the mining project is “full of holes,” he said.

One reason the government gave the project the green light is that low-scale mining has been happening on the lower Dome area since 1988.

“The mining operation is in existence right now,” said Energy, Mines and Resources director Bob Holmes.

“The current baseline in the area includes the operation of this placer mine,” says the decision document issued Tuesday.

That assertion is disingenuous, said Steins.

“What’s gone on before and what’s being proposed for the next 10 years is like night and day,” he said.

“They will literally be ripping up the main road (Dome Road), causing unsafe conditions and digging into cutbanks right beneath some people’s homes.

“It’s a major, major disruption of people’s homes and infringes on citizen’s rights to peaceful, quiet enjoyment.”

But the mine won’t be as large as some people imagine, said Holmes.

“What’s being proposed is a small operation – 40,000 cubic yards a year – that’s a tenth of the size of most placer mining operations in the territory,” he said.

Steins isn’t convinced digging up an area the size of 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools won’t affect the region.

Also, despite government claims to the contrary, it will probably hurt the prices of homes abutting the mine, he said.

“I’d like you to show me a person that will look at a potential property while there’s a Cat moving dirt, excavators and dump trucks going up the road, and then pay more for that property,” he said.

“The buyer is going to say, ‘Are you nuts? This is not an ocean view.’”

There are about 74 homes on the Midnight Dome subdivision according to resident Glenda Bolt.

A handful of those homes overlap Carey’s claims, or are less than 200 metres from them.

“If there are houses close to the mine it could certainly affect housing prices,” said Yukon real estate agent Gary Annau.

“It all depends on the location of the homes.”

Where Carey can mine will depend on how the Yukon water board rules, said Holmes.

The government wouldn’t say whether buying out Carey’s claim is an option at this point.

Dates have not been set for the water board hearings.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com