Uranium mining in the Peel Watershed is getting a second chance.
In March, Energy, Mines and Resources forgave 2,118 claims in the watershed, set to expire within the year.
Of these, 1,397 belong to cash-strapped Cash Minerals Ltd.
In 2007, the uranium-mining firm was sued for more than $395,000 in unpaid bills, by Vancouver-based mineral consultants Archer, Cathro & Associates (which also had 48 claims forgiven in the Peel).
To keep claims active, miners must either work them, or pay an annuity of $100.
Cash Minerals did neither and was set to lose its Peel claims, when Energy, Mines and Resources came to the rescue.
Now, the claims are preserved until February 2012.
Cash Minerals shares have dropped to practically nothing, said Yukon Conservation Society executive director Karen Baltgailis.
“So those claims would probably have lapsed.”
By forgiving them, the Yukon government made “it harder to have the wishes of the Yukon public and First Nations met,” she said.
The government made it clear, early in the Peel planning process, that there will be no expropriation or compensation for claims in the watershed, said Baltgailis.
“So clearly, the more claims there are in the Peel Watershed, the more resistance there will be from Yukon government to protecting those areas.”
Even if the planning commission recommends protection, those claims are still going to be there, she said.
The commission is recommending 80 per cent of the watershed be protected.
It’s also recommending existing claims be grandfathered, but have no road or rail access.
When it was sued, Cash Minerals had an application before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board to build a winter road to support its uranium exploration in the Wernecke Mountains, next to the Wind River.
“The Chamber of Mines says road access has to be allowed,” said Baltgailis. “But the Quartz Mining Act says, ‘reasonable access’ has to be allowed. And if you’re in the middle of a protected area then reasonable access is different than if you’re in the middle of an industrial zone.”
If the Peel is protected, companies could sue, arguing there’s not proper access to claims. And, at this point, the government may offer compensation, she said.
“But there should be no compensation if you’ve been given the claims for free,” which is what government just did with the 2,118 relief orders.
The department doesn’t want to see “the landscape change” while the fate of the watershed is being decided, said Mines’ mineral planning and development manager Bryony McIntyre in a previous News interview.
That’s why the relief orders were issued, she said.
But the landscape has changed since the planning commission started its work in October 2004.
Right away, the commission recommended a moratorium on staking in the watershed, as did local First Nations.
At the time, there were only 1,658 claims in the watershed.
But a staking moratorium wasn’t issued by Energy, Mines and Resources for another six years.
By then, there were 8,431 claims in the watershed.
“So clearly, the vast majority of the claims were staked in the Peel Watershed after the planning process began,” said Baltgailis.
“And my feeling about that is, if you’re staking claims in an area that you know is being discussed as a protected area, it’s buyer beware.”
Most of the claims are for uranium, which the Yukon public has voiced quite a bit of opposition to, she added.
Forgiving 2,118 mining claims in the Peel costs Yukoners, said NDP MLA Steve Cardiff.
If each claim pays an annuity of $100, that’s $211,800 “in revenues for government, or on-the-ground jobs for Yukon people,” he said, in a release.
“The government is already guilty, in many peoples’ minds, of fueling a staking rush in the region by not putting a moratorium on mineral staking when the land-use planning process started there four years ago,” he said.
“Now it is compounding a problem it created when it failed to act sooner by giving these very same companies and individuals a free ride for a full year at the public’s expense.
“That deserves some explaining.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at