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Land review process altered

Public reviews on land sales in the Yukon just got a lot less visible.The Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act took effect in…

Public reviews on land sales in the Yukon just got a lot less visible.

The Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act took effect in November 2004, but land-use thresholds were finally established in November 2005, making previous review processes redundant.

So the mandate of the land application review committee has been curbed.

For 20 years, the committee reviewed land applications in the Yukon, issuing public notices and holding monthly meetings where concerned parties would come, sit around a table and voice their concerns.

Now, those meetings are history.

With the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act in place, public reviews will be done on paper only, on an ongoing basis.

“The established land application review committee will no longer sit as a committee to review applications,” according to the lands branch website.

“In its place, for the small number of applications to be reviewed, the lands branch will operate a paper-based review process.

“The public will continue to be able to comment on land applications and have their comments considered by the lands branch.

“The department of Energy Mines and Resources will continue to be the decision maker on all land applications under its authority.”

As far as the lands branch is concerned, the change is positive because stakeholders will become more engaged in the process.

“We’re still doing the same work; we’re just not having two days full of coming up with recommendations,” said Bryony McIntyre, the Yukon’s lands manager and chair of the review committee.

“It’s more every day that we have to think about it,” McIntyre said Tuesday.

“Before, when we scheduled an application for review, most people didn’t provide us comments until we actually sat at the meeting.

“Now comments are coming in all the time.”

The YESAA regulations operate on a trigger basis.

So, if a land application doesn’t specify a use that meets a certain threshold, it won’t trigger a review.

But historical data indicates that 80 per cent of land applications will trigger a YESAA review, said lands branch director Lyle Henderson.

“Twenty per cent will not undergo that review because that 20-per-cent category will be deemed to be very minimal, or no surface activity at all,” Henderson said Tuesday.

Elementary development, like digging a hole for a septic tank, would require a YESAA assessment, he said.

Previously established review processes will still apply for the 20 per cent of applications that don’t trigger a YESAA review, said Henderson.

“The changes to the review process that are occurring now in accordance with the legislation in place, don’t change or impact the conditions of the government-approved land policies.

“The land policies are subject to the direction of government.”

There are 28 pending land applications posted on the lands branch website.

But they don’t include agricultural land applications, of which there are about 70, according to agriculture branch officials.

Some Yukoners are concerned the changing rules make an opportune time for a land grab.

Nevertheless, the Yukon Conservation Society has received the new YESAA regulations with cautious optimism.

“We’re very happy to have assessments being done by an independent body, rather than by departments almost being the proponent of projects and at the same time doing the environmental assessments of them,” said YCS spokeswoman Karen Baltgailis.

“We’ve always felt that there was a conflict of interest there.”

However, the public needs to be kept in the loop, said Baltgailis.

The land review committee wasn’t perfect, but it did keep stakeholders engaged, she said.

“With LARC, you could listen in as an audience or make a presentation to that committee.

“Some problems have happened before, like if a First Nation or a stakeholder didn’t show up the meeting then it was assumed they didn’t have a problem with a development proposal.

“It hasn’t been perfect. But it was a committee made up of various government departments, which was also useful.”

The lands branch has notified all applicants who require YESAA assessment, but has not yet received any YESAA recommendations regarding private citizens seeking land, said McIntyre.