No quick fix for Peel spat

At the heart of the Peel debate are roads. Miners need them to haul out valuable rock. Conservationists oppose them for fear that they'd spoil the watershed's remote wilderness. Planners, who propose protecting four-fifths of the Peel, have offered up the hope that technology could break this deadlock.

At the heart of the Peel debate are roads.

Miners need them to haul out valuable rock. Conservationists oppose them for fear that they’d spoil the watershed’s remote wilderness.

Planners, who propose protecting four-fifths of the Peel, have offered up the hope that technology could break this deadlock. Especially promising was Boeing’s Skyhook.

Part blimp, part helicopter, the vehicle was designed with the idea of supplying remote northern mines. It would carry 40 tons of payload as far as 370 kilometres without refuelling.

The helium-buoyed machines were to hit the market in just a few years.

But the Skyhook project has quietly deflated. Boeing planned to build the vehicles in partnership with Skyhook International, a privately held Calgary company that was supposed to raise the project’s cash.

The global financial crisis punctured these plans. Skyhook International appears to have tanked: the company’s phone lines are disconnected and its website has disappeared.

And a Boeing spokesperson says the company’s no longer involved with the project.

Skyhook wasn’t the only hybrid blimp being developed for remote mines. Lockheed has teamed up with a private, Calgary-based company to launch a similar vehicle to supply Alberta’s oilsands. A small version is dubbed the Skytug, while a larger model is called the Skyfreighter.

But it’s far from clear that the high-tech blimp business will float. So, for the Peel, there’s probably a need for more down-to-earth solutions.

The proposed plan would ban roads to the bulk of nearly 11,000 mineral claims in the region. The Yukon Chamber Of Mines has protested that doing so would make these claims “worthless.”

Miners also argue that a ban on roads tramples on their right to access, and that doing so may result in a tangle of lawsuits.

But a miner’s right to access his claim isn’t clearly defined in Yukon law, said Jesse Devost, a spokesperson for Energy, Mines and Resources. There are certainly no guarantees miners can build roads.

To do so, they must apply to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, and wait for the government to make a final decision.

These applications have been denied in the past. Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society, points to three prominent cases.

One involved the Rusty Springs mineral claim, just outside Fishing Branch Territorial Park. Miners wanted an access road through the park to truck out silver, lead and zinc, but were turned down.

Another case involves Joel White’s Horn claims within Tombstone Territorial Park. White’s plans to use snowmachines and helicopters to search for gold were rejected last autumn, for fear the operation would tarnish the park’s iconic image.

And Cash Minerals wanted to build an airstrip near the Wind River, within the Peel Watershed, to aid its hunt for uranium. In the winter of 2008, the territory shot down the plan.

Miners didn’t drag the territory to court in any of these cases. So Baltgailis is skeptical of the huffing and puffing over potential lawsuits in the Peel.

“Mining companies should not be surprised if they don’t get what they think is reasonable access,” said Baltgailis.

The strength of a miner’s claim to access would likely increase if they sat on a deposit that’s proven to be economically viable, said Baltgailis. But no Peel claims have reached that point, she said.

The current mess is of the government’s own making, Baltgailis noted. In 2004, when land-use planning talks began, the territory was encouraged to ban the staking of new claims in the region.

The government refused. And, predictably, prospectors rushed in.

Claims in the region jumped from 2,071 in 2004 to 10,666 in 2008. Most of the staking rush occurred along the Wind River, which also happens to be a favourite destination for backcountry paddlers.

The government finally imposed a staking ban in February of 2010.

Cash compensation isn’t the only solution for miners with Peel claims, say affected First Nations. They’re urging the use of several “creative solutions.”

One is to waive the requirement that miners periodically work their claims in the Peel, as the territory has already twice done.

Another is to allow miners to swap Peel claims for claims outside the region. A third option is to offer work credits to those who give up their Peel claims.

First Nations have also hinted that miners who steer clear of the Peel will be in their good books. That in itself is a valuable asset when First Nation support can make or break a project’s passage through Yukon’s environmental review regime.

The Yukon Conservation Society is urging Chevron, which owns the massive Crest iron deposit in the Peel, to take the high road and give up its Peel claims. Unlikely? Perhaps.

But Baltgailis says it would be a “relatively cheap” way for the multinational company to buy itself “environmental credibility.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read