Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, MP Larry Bagnell, left, and Premier Sandy Silver leave a press event after announcing federal and territorial funding for improving access to mineral-rich areas in the Yukon in Whitehorse September 2. (Joel Krahn/CP file)

No Resource Gateway construction work this season, YG says

‘We’re not as advanced as we would have liked to have been but we still are advancing’

No major construction work will be happening this season on the territory’s $360 million Resource Gateway roads project.

When the Yukon originally proposed the plan to Ottawa in 2016, the schedule called for some road construction work, including on the Nahanni Range Road and the Goldfields Road to happen in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Paul Murchison, director of transportation engineering with the Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works, said agreements still need to be signed with the affected First Nations before work can happen.

“We are preparing to move into the assessment process to do work but our timelines, the actual timelines, will be dependent on those agreements.”

Premier Sandy Silver has said from the beginning that work won’t happen without the agreement of the First Nations. The Yukon’s application lists the Trondek Hwech’in, Selkirk, Little Salmon/Carmacks and Kaska Dena as First Nations that need to be consulted.

The government also hasn’t completed some of the environmental assessment work that is supposed to happen before construction.

Murchison said the government has been collecting early data on some projects but hasn’t submitted anything to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

The government will be working on getting some projects designed, prepared and permitted this year, he said. There could be some minor road work.

“We can do a lot of that work to get prepared in the absence of agreements because we want to be prepared and ready to go when agreements are in place,” he said.

“We’re not as advanced as we would have liked to have been but we still are advancing and ramping up to advance some more in expectation of the agreements when they are in place.”

Murchison, who is not involved in negotiating that agreements with the First Nations, said he doesn’t think there are any particular stumbling blocks.

Given the size of the overall project “the governments need to take the time to make sure they have the appropriate agreement for their citizens,” he said

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the Yukon last September to announce the project which includes upgrades to infrastructure in the mineral-rich Nahanni and Dawson ranges.

In the end it proposes 650 kilometres of upgraded roads as well as the replacement of various bridges, culverts and stream crossings.

Along with the $360 million from Yukon and Ottawa, industry is expected to contribute another $108 million to the work.

Yukon won’t lose out on any money because it didn’t use the cash this year, Murchison said. The money is there to claim when the government needs it.

The project is scheduled to run until 2024-25. Murchison said it’s too soon to say whether the territory will have to ask Ottawa for an extension.

“As we get into the program, as we get agreements, as the program ramps up, decisions will need to be made about timelines. We’re looking at 2024-25 for completion,” he said.

“Now, at this point I can’t say, ‘Do we need more time or not?’ until we’re in a position where we have agreements and we look at how the project proceeds.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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