Residents dig in against Stevens Quarry

They may not look like fighters, but these Takhini Valley residents are preparing for another battle over the proposed Stevens gravel quarry.

They may not look like fighters, but these Takhini Valley residents are preparing for another battle over the proposed Stevens gravel quarry.

Craig Beatty, Fred and Debbie Last, and Fritz and Nana Lehnherr say they’re getting ready for round two.

Clad in gumboots and duct-taped down jackets as they walk the Takhini River ridge on the Lasts’ farm, they talk about how in 1994 they convinced the territory to shut down plans for Stevens Quarry.

At that time, they brought then-Yukon Party cabinet ministers Mickey Fisher and Bill Brewster out to see how close their farm would be to the quarry.

This time around, no politicians have responded to their invitations.

Pointing across the river corridor, which runs from Kusawa Lake to the Yukon River, Beatty’s finger traces the pine-covered glacial deposits in front of the valley’s western mountain range.

“They’re basically going to extract those mountains,” he said of the proposed quarry that is sandwiched between the river and the Alaska Highway.

“Let’s call it what it is, it’s a mine. They’ll mine those mountains, cut all the trees off, then basically, they’ll disappear and it’s all going to be dust and noise.”

Whitehorse city planner Ben Campbell has spoken with the group and knows that dust and noise top the list of their concerns.

That list has been included in the city’s application for the 95-hectare, four-pit quarry to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, which it submitted Wednesday.

Although the quarry was dropped from plans in 1994, Campbell said much has changed since then.

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Most significantly, the municipality’s bible, the Official Community Plan, has been changed to include Stevens as a quarry to meet future gravel needs. Additional testing has been done to prove the quarry’s richness.

Also, in 1994 not all First Nations’ land claims in the area were settled and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board wasn’t up and running.

Campbell said the city is growing and development demands gravel.

“Generally, McLean (Lake) is starting to run out,” said Campbell of the city’s main gravel source.

“Demand is increasing. Whistle Bend is going to need a tremendous amount of gravel. And it’s good to have quarries as close to the development site as possible … to keep development costs down.”

Beatty believes the city’s push for the Stevens Quarry is the result of impatience, poor planning, laziness, or all three.

He’s not convinced the McLean Lake pits are running out.

And he doesn’t agree that destroying another wilderness area, near where people live and work, is justified just so developers can have gravel closer to their site.

On the drive out to the Lasts’ farm, Beatty takes his beat-up Ford Explorer on a detour to the Whistle Bend subdivision.

“This is just a wet area,” he said, pointing to the water pumps that are working to keep water out of the holes and the makeshift dike that was built to try to keep the pooled water from gushing in.

“Anyone who knows anything about this area will see the spruce and know this area doesn’t drain well. It’s a water pit. To build any sort of infrastructure on this is very, very difficult. It’s just muck.

“Have the people done their homework?”

Beatty suspects contractors have had to dig deeper and use more gravel just to build in the area.

He wonders why the city simply didn’t find a more suitable area to build a subdivision.

And because the city has spent “too much time looking at maps and not enough time with boots on the ground, looking around,” it looks like he and his neighbours may have to pay by putting up with a quarry in their backyard.

Back on the road, Beatty hangs a right onto the North Klondike Highway.

“That’s MacPherson,” he said. “Those guys will really get nailed with it.”

A minute later, “That’s Hidden Valley.”

As he nears the turn for the Takhini Hotsprings Road, Beatty pulls over to point out the Gunnar Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest.

It’s an aspect to the neighbourhood that Campbell didn’t know anything about and confessed it wasn’t mentioned in the city’s YESAB submission.

After a short drive down the Hotsprings Road, Beatty turns down the driveway to the Lasts’ farm where he owns a subdivided plot along the Takhini River’s ridge. He hopes to build his retirement home and bed-and-breakfast cabins there one day.

But if the quarry goes through, his plans will have to change, he said.

Fritz and Nana Lehnherr, the Last’s western neighbours, run the Takhini Highlander Farm, where they grow oats and hay.

But if the quarry goes in, the older, Swiss couple say they’ll face serious economic challenges.

All three properties are directly across the river and downwind from where the quarry would be. There is no sound buffer. Instead the river basin acts more like an echo chamber.

Worst of all, there would be no way to block the dust from landing on their fields.

“Even now, the spring pollen coats the fields like snow,” said Fritz. “But it’s only for one or two days, which is fine, but when it’s dust every day from a batchplant, that’s going to kill my crops.

“If you put, every day, dust flying over the crops, it closes up the pores. If you cover that leaf, the plant will go dormant.”

If a plant’s pores are clogged, it can’t collect nutrients from the sun to begin photosynthesis and it will die.

Most students learn that in grade school, but there is little knowledge in the gravel industry about how to keep dust down.

The city is considering hard-surface roads instead of gravel, said Campbell.

As well, there must be 300-metre buffers around the site, and according to studies done in 1994, the high-wind time is mostly in the winter, when the quarry and the farmland would not be in use, he said.

While plans for the quarry currently allow for asphalt and concrete plants, they are not a part of this initial proposal, said Campbell. Right now, the quarry is expected to be in operation for about 10 to 12 years. That could be extended if the pits have more gravel than expected, Campbell added.

Any discussion about compensation – if the quarry does cause economic liabilities for the farmers – would have to be worked out with the territory, said Campbell.

The territory owns the quarry, but under the land protocol agreement, the city does the planning and development, as it is doing with Whistle Bend.

The Lasts and Lehnherrs believe no amount of growth in Whitehorse should result in developing Stevens Quarry.

“It shouldn’t be inevitable,” said Fred. “There’s so many other places outside of this neighbourhood.”

Beatty understands that while it may not be for the “poorly planned” Whistle Bend subdivision, the quarry may eventually need to be developed.

“It is a natural resource that will likely, one day, be legitimately needed as Whitehorse continues to grow, and if it is time now, show me the numbers, show me the proof,” he said.

“But this is a complete 180 from what this land has historically been for. And talk about smack dab in the middle.

“McLean (Lake area) was always mining and industrial and now leisure activities and industry coexist quite well. But (the Hotsprings area) is a Yukon rural setting.

“It was always agricultural and then country residential. There are farms and ecobusinesses out here and the country residential fits in well with that.

“I’m not anti-development but let’s do it right, and a lot of times it’s not done right.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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