The Yukon Chamber of Mines is applauding the territorial government’s push to open up much of the Peel watershed to development.
“We support responsible development in the region, and we do so with active engagement of First Nations and all parties,” said chamber president Mark Ayranto. “So we were encouraged by what we saw.”
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers has rejected the planning commission’s plan to protect four-fifths of the vast, Nova Scotia-size swath of northeast Yukon. Instead, he’s calling for protection of some key areas, along with measures to lessen the impact of mining elsewhere.
That has infuriated First Nations, conservationists, hunting outfitters, wilderness tourism operators and opposition parties. They have all lined up to denounce the government’s position.
These critics warn that mining may spoil the nearly-pristine character of the watershed. They’re also heavily critical of the Yukon Party government’s decision to stay mum on the Peel plan during the recent territorial election.
At the time, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski said it would be “irresponsible” to take a stand on the matter without further public consultation. No such consultation has been held in the interim.
Individual mine proposals should be judged on their own merits, rather than being banned on principle from much of the region, said Ayranto.
“To suggest whether or not a mine should or shouldn’t happen in there right now is pretty premature. I’m sure there are lots of areas where responsible mining could occur, and I’m sure the opposite is true too.”
Chiefs have warned that the government’s handling of the Peel plan may result in a protracted court battle. That could tie up mining claims in the region.
“When things go to court, it’s a concern to anybody,” said Ayranto. “We’d be no exception. All parties ought to try to avoid that.”
At the heart of the Peel spat are the so-called Three Rivers Ã the Snake, the Bonnet Plume and the Wind. They are favourite destinations for wilderness paddlers and mineral exploration companies alike.
Uranium occurrences have been found in the area. There are also known coal deposits. And Chevron owns the massive Crest iron deposit along the Snake.
Ayranto disagrees with the Peel planners’ conclusion that wilderness tourism and mineral extraction can’t coexist in the same area.
“I don’t subscribe to the view that the two are totally incompatible, otherwise the issue would have come up 30 years ago,” he said.
The recommended plan would have also banned roads in much of the watershed, to the consternation of miners with claims in the area. They have described such a restriction as being tantamount to expropriation.
Ayranto said the chamber urges its 500 members to follow “best management practices” to lessen their environmental impact. “By and large, members do that,” he said. “That includes getting proper permits in place and doing proper reclamation.”
Ayranto wouldn’t comment on Pasloski’s flip-flop on conducting more consultation before taking a stand on the Peel. “That’s something to bring up with governments,” he said.
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