Gravel falls through city’s red tape

Kwanlin Dun's proposed quarry at McLean Lake won't create many jobs. "It's not going to be a big project in terms of employment generation.

Kwanlin Dun’s proposed quarry at McLean Lake won’t create many jobs.

“It’s not going to be a big project in terms of employment generation. We’re just getting the ball rolling,” said Kwanlin Dun senior economic development advisor Martin Crill. “How it will be actually organized is hard to say.

“It’s a lot of gravel. And there’s a big demand for it but it doesn’t actually add up to a dozen people running around in hard hats. Neither does it mean tradespeople will be trained and these sorts of things. It’s pretty low key, really.”

Kwanlin Dun selected the land at McLean Lake during its final land-claim agreement.

The new quarry proposal has nothing to do with the recent election of Chief Rick O’Brien, who has said economic development and employment are among his top priorities.

The idea to develop a quarry has been in the works for at least four years, said Crill.

Now, with new building projects Kwanlin Dun and its subsidiary companies have taken on – like the cultural centre on the riverfront – the need for gravel has increased internally, not to mention buyers in the broader market.

But the First Nation has been forced to buy gravel from other companies quarrying existing lots, surrounding Kwanlin Dun’s land.

It was a clause in the city’s Official Community Plan that stopped the First Nation from developing its own quarry.

In the 2002 community plan, it says that any new gravel extraction from the McLean Lake area must first pass a hydro-geological study.

That clause was changed in the 2010 Official Community Plan, which passed recently.

Now, much broader terms outline that “appropriate environmental studies and management plans shall be conducted.”

So, as long as a project passes the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board review, it should be good to go.

“You need to prove it’s not causing environmental or socioeconomic impacts that can’t be mitigated,” said senior city planner Mike Ellis.

But Ron Newsome, who has been quarrying in the McLean Lake and Ear Lake areas since the 1980s, says quarrying doesn’t adversely affect the watershed.

“It’s just quarrying,” said Newsome. “This is just driven solely as an obstacle – as any environmentalist takes a beat on something. They want to create as many barriers, distractions, roadblocks and expenses because they all cause delays.”

Newsome’s own proposal to expand his operations at McLean Lake has been stalled since the 1990s.

He’s “bottlenecked,” he said. He doesn’t have enough room to do what he’s already doing.

His expansion, which is still under assessment board review, has even gone through territorial Supreme Court when the McLean Lake Residents Association petitioned against it.

The residents association won the initial court case because of the Official Community Plan.

The need to broaden the rules was really the main reason for taking out the hydro-geological-specific clause, said Ellis.

“Instead of putting this over and above requirement for a specific study, the OCP is just our general visionary document for guiding future development,” he said.

“It’s not a tool to insert policies that are going to achieve specific outcomes and stop projects.”

Newsome is pleased with the new changes and expects things to start moving again soon.

“I am very happy with the city’s efforts,” he said. “I realize YESAA is the due process. I felt sorry for the band because they’re trying to conduct a business using their resources, their people, as well as benefit our community by spending their money here.”

The McLean Lake Residents Association has no objection to the Kwnalin Dun project.

“We see it as a provision of the final agreement,” said association member Skeeter Miller-Wright. “As we understand, there is still permitting to be done but we have nothing to say about it.”

The First Nation is not planning on buying much of the big equipment it will need for a quarry, if its application before the assessment board is passed.

Instead Kwanlin Dun hopes to partner with people already working in that area.

But even without employment opportunities, this development could bring a fair bit of money back to the aboriginal community.

Its assessment board proposal encompasses two lots and a predicted 100,000 cubic metres of gravel.

“It should be a nice little earner for us,” said Crill.

Public comments on the proposal will be accepted by the assessment board until April 4.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com