Peel dream takes flight, as time runs out

Time is running out once again for the government to act on the Peel River Watershed land-use plan.

Time is running out once again for the government to act on the Peel River Watershed land-use plan.

In February, the territorial government announced the second extension of a ban that protects the Scotland-sized swath of land in northeastern Yukon from any new mineral staking.

It took five years and at least 8,000 new claims for the government to finally enact the initial ban. First Nations with land in the area began asking for some sort of moratorium when the land-use planning process started in 2004.

The initial year-long ban was put in place in February 2010. It was extended for another year in 2011 and , again, for seven months in 2012.

That extension will expire on September 4.

On Thursday afternoon, two members of the Peel Youth Alliance demonstrated outside the legislative assembly demanding the ban be extended once again, and that the territory accept the recommended land-use plan, which protects 80 per cent of the region.

“It’s a critical time,” said Graeme Poile. “After the plan was recommended, the government completely disregarded it. They chose to go against the entire planning process and we’re concerned that can be furthered in this instance if they let the staking ban lapse. It would not be democratic at all.”

But it looks like the ban will be extended, for a third time, according to an email to the News from Environment Minister Currie Dixon.

“The ideal circumstances would see a land-use plan for the region completed before we would lift the interim withdrawal,” he said on behalf of the government. “So, yes we do anticipate that it will be extended. However, I should be clear that we are not interested in an indefinite withdrawal. We committed to following through on the process outlined in the UFA (Umbrella Final Agreement) and hope to bring that process to a conclusion as soon as possible.”

Also on Thursday, on the other end of the continent, something occurred that might help bring a compromise for the region.

Throughout the Peel land-use planning process, roads have been identified as a main issue. Miners need them to make any claims worthwhile, and conservationists hate them because of their efficiency and effectiveness in breaking up ecosystems.

This is why the idea of airships came up. The fabled, blimp-like vehicle promises to let miners haul in heavy equipment and take out ore with little, or no, effect to the environment.

Yukoners keen on the idea started paying attention to a deal between Discovery Air in the Northwest Territories and a U.K. company called Hybrid Air Vehicles. That deal expired earlier this week, seemingly extinguishing the dream of northern airships.

Until Thursday, when the British company’s first airship took flight for the first time.

The more than 300-foot-long air vehicle flew above an American military base in New Jersey for more than 90 minutes before landing successfully.

The Discovery Air deal was left to dissolve because it was simply too narrow-minded, said Hardy Giesler ina call from the U.K. on Thursday.

The company is extremely interested in making airships for the North, he said.

“I’ve spent the last two weeks in various meetings at the (Olympics’) Canada House here in London,” he said. “We’re very excited about the Canadian North. But there’s a much bigger play here. One mine could take up eight vehicles on a permanent basis. You use our vehicle, which we call the Air Lander, instead of investing in infrastructure. It’s a big thing and beyond the scope of one operator, like Discovery Air.”

Ultimately, the British company not only wants to build airships for the North, but wants northerners to build them for themselves.

The company foresees an entire industry, including manufacturing and assembly plants, developed in northern Canada, said Giesler.

“We have seen tremendous interest in this vehicle,” he said. “And we’ve realized, the idea of having one manufacturing facility providing global demand isn’t going to work for us.”

But whether the Air Lander takes off in the territory sooner, or later, the government still has a decision to make when it comes to the Peel Watershed land-use plan.

The last time Premier Darrell Pasloski spoke about whether the government would accept the recommended plan, he said a final round of public consultations would have to take place first.

He said those meetings would happen this spring, but by mid-July, the government still had “internal work” to complete first, according to spokesperson Darren Parsons.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at