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Land exchange suggested for Whitehorse airport project

Council hears from public on rezoning of airport area
This map shows the area proposed to be rezoned to allow for the runway extension at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. (City of Whitehorse/Screenshot)

As the city considers rezoning part of the Puckett’s Gulch area to accommodate the Yukon government’s plans for a runaway expansion, one resident is suggesting a land exchange between the city and territory that would allow the runway expansion to happen while ensuring the perimeter trail around the airport is restored and protected.

Jim Gilpin brought forward his idea during a public hearing on the rezoning at Whitehorse city council’s Sept. 12 meeting.

The proposal would see a portion of Puckett’s Gulch zoned under the airport designation rather than the environmental protection designation currently in place. Should that go ahead, the territory would seek to then purchase the land from the city and expand one of the runways at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport by 150 metres to meet Transport Canada regulations.

The airport is currently operating the runway with an exemption, but it’s anticipated the larger runway will be needed for 737 traffic as passenger volumes return to pre-pandemic levels.

The plans would see a portion of the airport trail rerouted, as well as a fence, roadway and manhole moved to make way for the runway.

Gilpin suggested a land exchange would benefit both governments with the territory needing the city land for its runway extension and the city in need of the Yukon government land to restore the airport perimeter trail. Such an exchange would see the city obtain 0.1 hectares while the territory would receive 2.8 hectares.

“This trail is no longer continuous as it was closed last year due to erosion,” Gilpin said, pointing out the proposed plan maintains the Black Street stairs leading downtown and the paved trail north of the stairs.

Trail rerouting plans would indicate that the Yukon government recognizes the recreational value of the larger trail that circumnavigates the airport property, he continued.

The project, however, does not include plans to fix some sections of the perimeter trail outside the airport property that are already in poor shape or do not have a lot of space.

Gilpin suggested that since the territory is requesting the zoning change and to purchase some city land, it would be an ideal opportunity for the city to make a similar request for some of the trail area to “ensure that a viable trail can be maintained between the airport fence line and the edge of the escarpment.”

“All proposed boundary adjustments that I’m suggesting would not impact airport operations,” he said. “Ninety-five meters of new fencing and a slightly longer length of new perimeter road is all that would be required.”

He went on to highlight particular sections of the trail that could use work and may benefit from the city’s purchase.

While Fred Jay, the territory’s program manager for the airport expansion project, was on-hand at the meeting and also addressed council, he said he couldn’t speak directly to Gilpin’s suggestion, noting that it would have to go through another process at the territorial level.

He did point out the territory had hosted a public information session on the project, which drew 52 people looking to learn about the plans. Questions from the public focused largely on the impact to the trail system, he said, reiterating and clarifying details of the plans such as the commitment for geotechnical assessments to be done ahead of any work.

Also speaking to the rezoning were residents Nathan Miller and Ian Robertson, who represented Peter Long as Long was unable to attend the meeting.

Miller highlighted concerns around the potential for noise and landslides that could come from the work and an extended runway, arguing there should be a better understanding of the implications before the project moves forward.

He pointed out work at the airport earlier this year resulted in shaking of his downtown home and suggested the city get more clarity on the potential impacts of project or “at the very minimum” that there’s a commitment from the Yukon government to work with the city on addressing concerns and coming up with ways to mitigate the impacts.

Meanwhile Robertson said he shares Long’s concerns about the preservation of the trail east of the airport, particularly as the city considers a new Official Community Plan contemplating further development. He noted the trail route is an important one for the community as well as visitors.

Robertson also expressed support for Gilpin’s proposal, commenting that it seems “quite reasonable.”

Along with hearing directly from the four who attended the public hearing, the city received six written submissions on the rezoning with a mix of support and concern expressed, Valerie Braga, the city’s director of corporate services, said.

A report on the hearing will come forward to council Oct. 3, with council scheduled to vote on the final two readings for the rezoning Oct. 11.

Should the rezoning be adopted, a lengthy process for the city land to then be transferred to the territory would begin with an amendment to the downtown escarpment land use policy to reflect the zoning change. Disposition, subdivision and the formal land transfer would follow, including the development agreement.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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