Whitehorse city officials have a “serious credibility problem” when it comes to development planning, according to residents of McLean Lake.
Addressing council on Monday, McLean Lake residents Bob Kuiper and Skeeter Miller-Wright said residents don’t trust the city’s planning department to manage the environmental assessment review for a proposed cement batch plant and gravel quarry.
“A number of the interveners have felt their considerations were not taken seriously and, quite frankly, we don’t have the trust that the review will be independent and comprehensive,” said Kuiper.
“It’s plain and simple; I’m sorry to be so blunt, but we just don’t have the trust,” he said.
In March, council blocked Territorial Contracting Ltd. from taking over a 14-hectare parcel of land in the McLean Lake area containing Sleeping Giant Hill, pending an independent review.
A private contractor was hired by the city to review an environmental assessment commissioned by the Yukon government that said the plant would have no damaging effects.
But last month, the city’s planning department went ahead with the review process without consulting council or McLean Lake residents.
Those residents say concerns have not been addressed by the consultation company’s terms of reference, which was determined by the city.
“There have been numerous times when we’ve had discussions with city planning and they said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do the studies; your concerns will be addressed,’ and we’ve been consistently disappointed that those follow-through actions have not been done in a way that was adequate,” said Kuiper.
“So we are now faced with a situation where the city planning department, once again, is saying, ‘Don’t worry we’ll look after your concerns, we’ll make sure that they’re addressed in the review.’
“Well, based on our experience of the past and based on the fact that the last month there has been a very clear transgression of the promised process … we don’t have the trust.”
City staff have said there was nothing wrong with the original environmental assessment done by the Yukon government and that all the requirements had been met, said Miller-Wright.
“There’s a credibility problem here,” he said.
“There is no way that the credibility of the city government is going to be maintained if and independent review is conducted by a party that has already made it quite clear how it feels.”
Both Kuiper and Miller-Wright insisted the management of the review should be handed over to an independent third party, such as a multi-stakeholder committee chaired by an independent facilitator or the Yukon ombudsman Hank Moorlag.
“A third party that is truly independent and also has the trust of the public is needed,” said Miller-Wright.
“The public needs to know that their concerns will be listened to and taken seriously and that the proper process will be followed by the managers of the process.”
As a compromise, council decided Monday to give the management of the project to the city’s director of operations, Brian Crist.
“Just in order to avoid any appearances, I’m going to suggest … that the director of community services manage the contract,” said councillor Doug Graham.
“Brian has not been involved in this process from the start. He doesn’t have any preconceived notions. I have a great deal of faith in him.”
Councillor Dave Stockdale indicated that having Crist manage the review was no better than the planning department as the perception would still be that it was an “in-house operation.”
Council also agreed to allow the public to see a draft of the review before it was finalized.
“This gives everyone an opportunity to ask questions and ask clarification of points or reasons behind certain conclusions taken in the report,” said Graham.
Concerns about the plant have been raised by residents of Copper Ridge, McLean Lake and Lobird, as well as the Kwanlin Dun First Nation regarding the diminishment of property value in surrounding neighbourhoods, loss of greenspace and damage to air and water quality.
The area impacted by the concrete plant includes at least 2,000 lots, according to Kuiper.
“At a very light breeze of 10 kilometres an hour, smoke coming from a concrete plant will take less than five minutes to get to the front door of people 800 metres downwind,” he said.
Kuiper had some words of advice for council on the overall management of property development in the McLean Lake area.
“I would like to suggest that it is now time that the city begin to show some real proactive leadership by preparing a comprehensive greenspace plan for the McLean Lake area,” he said.
It must start “recognizing the increased importance of residential land in the area, listening to and working with the area residents in planning for that area, and identifying suitable industrial sites elsewhere in the city,” he added.
Council made some amendments to the review process and will now allow it to go forward under the new conditions.
“I’m quite sure that no matter what comes out of this, someone’s going to be unhappy,” said mayor Ernie Bourassa.