The Yukon government has rejected ATAC Resources’ proposal for an access road to the company’s Tiger Gold Deposit northeast of Keno City.
The stated reasons include opposition expressed by the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun (FNNND), who were concerned during consultation about the impacts of a four-season road into the undeveloped area.
“We are extremely disappointed with, and surprised by this decision,” said president and CEO Graham Downs in a statement.
“This was an application for a private, single-lane, gravel and controlled-access road in an area with existing winter trail access. If this road can’t be permitted following a positive environmental and socio-economic assessment decision and years of governmental encouragement to invest in the project, then you have to wonder if Yukon is in fact open for business,” he said.
The company said they are consulting legal advice and won’t be commenting further.
ATAC has proposed that the all-season 65-kilometre tote road is essential to accessing the area. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Board issued a conditional approval in March of 2018.
The Tiger Gold Deposit is part of the larger Rackla Gold Project located within the Beaver River Watershed. It is all located within the traditional lands to the FNNND, but the proposed road skirted Settlement A lands.
In the legislative assembly on Dec. 1, Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent criticized the decision and accused the Liberals of “stringing along the company for three years” before turning down the proposal.
“It demonstrates that currently, there’s a climate of distrust in the mining industry of this government. It is extremely concerning when you see the CEO of a major mining company indicate that it seems like the Yukon is closed,” said Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai said the company will have an “opportunity to improve their application” and reapply.
Kent said in addition to the rejection of the application, the government failed to meet deadlines for the company.
“I know that one of the things that has been a challenge throughout the fall of this year and in the spring is ensuring that you meet consultation obligations, within a COVID reality. We’ve strived in every instance to do that,” said Pillai.
Pillai cited opposition by the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun as a primary reason for the decision. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the First Nation and the Yukon government planned four consultations over the year, including two in Mayo and two in Whitehorse.
Concerns from citizens of the First Nation included that the road would permanently alter an untouched portion of the traditional territory, would encroach too closely on Settlement A lands and contribute to citizens feeling “a loss of control” in relation to mining in the area.
The amount of road to be constructed and its quality are also “unprecedented” under a Class 3 exploration program, according to the document. The document notes that only three full exploration seasons remain under the approved application, which expires August 2024.
“Approval of the Application would be in breach of the honour of the Crown and would be seen as a betrayal of FNNND people and leave the impacts of the Road on its aboriginal and treaty rights and Traditional Territory entirely unaddressed and unaccommodated,” reads the note in the decision document.
Asked about the conditional approvals the company received in 2017, Pillai said because the company is seeking legal counsel he would not comment.
“Once that gets stated it’s more difficult to get into a broader dialogue at this point,” he said. “So I would say that their application, in the end, the application didn’t meet the threshold.”
CPAWS Yukon applauded the decision.
In addition to cultural concerns regarding First Nation land, the conservation group said the road cuts through habitat for moose, grizzly bears and salmon in addition to other species.
“This decision makes it possible to develop a land use plan for the Beaver River Watershed that’s right for the region, respects the connections people have to it, and safeguards land and water for wildlife,” said Randi Newton, conservation manager with CPAWS Yukon.
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