Outfitters outraged

The deadline for comments on the proposed Wind River winter road has been extended. And that’s good news for those who work in the region.

The deadline for comments on the proposed Wind River winter road has been extended.

And that’s good news for those who work in the region.

“I have concerns about the environment and about the wildlife,” said Yukon Outfitters’ Association President Alan Young.

“But most of all, I have concerns about them impacting my business, which is my livelihood as a Yukoner.”

Young’s concession runs along the Wind River, near the trail that Cash Minerals plans to convert into a winter road.

Cash Minerals has been conducting exploration in the area for the past four years, primarily searching for uranium.

After witnessing the Cash operation last summer, Young doesn’t want to see how the exploration company builds roads.

“They built these 40-man camps, all of which are pretty much permanent structures,” said Young.

“They have fuel caches, which leak fuel into the creeks and they don’t hire anybody. They had hundreds of kids in there last year — all from Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver.

“Not one was from Na-cho Nyak Dun.”

Until now, Cash Minerals has been accessing the area by plane.

The proposal to use 250 kilometres of the Wind River trail also includes 39 kilometres of new spur roads, landing strips and fuel caches.

On Tuesday, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board extended the deadline for comments until December 6.

“The extension is great,” said Wilderness Tourism Association vice-president Blaine Walden.

Walden, the owner of Walden’s Guiding & Outfitting, guides canoe trips down the Wind River at least once a year.

He is concerned that the visibility of the road and caches, and increased air traffic could affect his business.

“A lot of people were not aware of this proposal,” said Walden.

“The extension gives everyone a chance to review it and have their voice heard.”

Young was one of those who were not aware of the proposal.

“I found out about it in a coffee shop,” he said.

“I’m one of the major stakeholders — I have over $2 million invested up there — and I’m not even on the contact list.”

The extension also gives Cash Minerals a chance to collect more information and answer some of the many questions that have been submitted.

Groups such as the Environment department, Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation, and Wilderness Tourism Association complained that the application was too vague.

The board itself submitted a formal information request to Cash Minerals on November 16.

The company was asked to provide more detailed maps and to describe how long the company plans to be using the winter road.

Expedition companies and tourism groups also asked for a description of fuel caches in relation to river travellers.

They were also asked to describe the condition of the existing trail that they plan to use.

The Wind River trail was built in the late 1950s, but there is disagreement as to whether it has been used since than.

“That trail has seen a lot of use. There’s very little revegetation,” said Yukon Chamber of Mines president John Witham.

“Allowing them to use it wouldn’t change a thing. As recently as 2004 the route was utilized to clean up an abandoned mining property,” he added.

“The trail is so old now that it’s barely even noticeable,” said Young.

“I fly over it almost every day and it’s gone. They can’t say that it’s still there because it’s not.”

Land-use planning is currently underway for the Peel River watershed, of which the Wind River is a part.

“If this project is going to be considered in the absence of a completed land-use plan, it can only receive the degree of attention it deserves through a full public review,” wrote Yukon Conservation Society executive director Karen Baltgailis in her latest comment to the board.

“How this project is dealt with will set the course for future uses of this region.”

So far there has been no response to the questions raised or the call for a public review.

Cash Minerals has so far declined to comment. Peter Arendt, the project’s vice-president and spokesperson is currently travelling in Europe.

“We don’t want the last wilderness area to be accessible by Cat tracks,” said Young.

“Yukon outfitters, and me especially, are vehemently opposed.”

The project has been submitted to YESAB as the Wernecke Winter Road Access Project.

To read posted comments or voice your own, visit www.yesab.ca.

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