Judas Creek placer mining proposal faces scrutiny

A proposed placer mine near Jake's Corner on the Alaska Highway is getting a lot of attention, due to concerns from local residents about possible impacts to caribou, water quality and migratory birds.

A proposed placer mine near Jake’s Corner on the Alaska Highway is getting a lot of attention, due to concerns from local residents about possible impacts to caribou, water quality and migratory birds.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board held two public meetings this week for residents of Carcross and Marsh Lake to discuss the proposed operation near Judas Creek.

The development, proposed by Nicolai Goeppel and Alex Shamon, would include 45 placer mining claims that overlap four unnamed tributaries of Judas Creek. Activities would occur between May 1 and Nov. 15 annually for 10 years.

Since the project entered the public feedback stage of YESAB’s assessment process in late January, it has attracted a number of comments, most expressing concerns about the scope and impacts of the development.

The Judas Creek project is in the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dun and Carcross/Tagish First Nations, and is adjacent to Kwanlin Dun settlement land.

Last month, Kwanlin Dun submitted a letter to YESAB outlining a number of concerns, including uncertainty as to whether the placer mine would increase sediment in Judas Creek and affect fish populations in Marsh Lake.

“In particular KDFN is concerned about its final agreement treaty right to unaltered water quality and quantity flowing through or adjacent to settlement land and to the further alienation of KDFN citizens’ ability to utilize this area for traditional purposes,” Dave Sembsmoen, director of the First Nation’s lands and resources department, wrote in a statement to the News.

The project is also within the core winter range of the Carcross caribou herd. Environment Yukon recently submitted the results of a site visit to YESAB, which found that the project would remove caribou habitat and interrupt caribou movement. A spokesperson said the department won’t submit its recommendations for the project until after the public comment period has ended on March 15.

Susan Walton, a resident of the Judas Creek subdivision who also commented on the project, said she’s particularly concerned about possible impacts to migratory birds. In her submission, she said the mouth of Judas Creek is a recognized migration and nesting area for more than 120 bird species.

“I always thought it was a very special place, and I wouldn’t want to see it degraded,” she told the News.

Another local resident, Joost van der Putten, said he has questions about possible impacts to drinking water quality in the Judas Creek community. He said he didn’t see any information about the issue in the project description.

But not all of the comments submitted to YESAB were critical.

“I believe that the benefits of this mine outweigh the negatives,” wrote Amy Ricard. “It will positively affect the economy of our territory (and) bring high-paying jobs to Yukon residents.”

For his part, Goeppel said he was caught off-guard by the level of interest in the project. This is the 26-year-old’s first application for a water licence. He said he’s been casually exploring the area since 2011, and decided to stake some claims in 2013, after he found gold.

He said he thought the application would be fairly straightforward.

“I had no idea how much concern there was,” he said. “It was a big eye-opener, and if I could go back to the start, I’d do it differently. I’d definitely get in contact with more people before, on the First Nation side and then also on the YESAB side.”

Goeppel said he’s able to address a number of the concerns raised. He said a lot of the questions about fish, birds and water quality stem from uncertainty about how much sediment will end up in Judas Creek.

But he believes most of the water used in the operation will seep into the ground as it sits in settling ponds, meaning that little will actually flow out into the creek. Even if some does, he said, any sediment left in it will likely settle out in the wetlands and beaver ponds before it reaches Marsh Lake.

Goeppel also said the footprint of the project will be quite small, because access roads to the project site already exist from previous exploration in the area. He doesn’t plan to build a camp on the site, and he said he plans to reclaim each section as he goes.

“We’re not mining in 1898. It’s come a long way from that,” he said. “Everything I do will be scrutinized and watched.”

Goeppel said he wants to extend YESAB’s public comment period to give people more opportunity to weigh in on the project. He also plans to meet with the Carcross/Tagish Renewable Resources Council.

Paul Sparling, a fisheries technician and local resident, said this week’s meeting in Marsh Lake was attended by about 60 people, including a good cross-section of those who support the project and those with concerns.

He said he doesn’t personally support or oppose the operation, but he thinks it’s a tough sell in a residential area.

“I think they need to redefine the plan a little bit,” he said. “It’s very large. I think people felt intimidated by it.”

Goeppel said he thought people had more confidence in the project by the end of the public meetings. He’ll be disappointed if the project doesn’t get YESAB’s approval, he said, but he doesn’t regret the attempt.

“I basically dug a hole and threw all the money I made last summer into it, trying to go after this dream. No matter what happens, I had a great experience.”

Comments about the Judas Creek project can be submitted to YESAB through the online registry at www.yesab.ca.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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