Ben Asquith, the CEO of the Da Daghay Development Corporation, speaks in Whitehorse on Oct 27, 2017. Asquith says the city “screwed-up” by not properly consulting TKC in the first place when the proposed quarry site near the Whitehorse airport was zoned in 2010. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Rocky road ahead for proposed quarry

The economic development arm of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council wants the city to amend the OCP

Da Daghay Development Corporation (DDDC) is asking the City of Whitehorse to make an amendment to the Official Community Plan (OCP) which would allow it to develop a gravel quarry on a parcel of land near the Whitehorse International Airport.

The DDDC is the economic development arm of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council (TKC) and acts on the economic development interests of TKC.

The request, which administration brought forward at the Mar. 4 standing committees meeting, is specific to a 12.2-hectare parcel of TKC settlement land, located on the west side of the Alaska Highway, north of Wasson Place commercial area and south of Valleyview.

The plot is currently zoned for residential development, and is adjacent to other, non-TKC parcels, including a property owned by Alacrity, a parcel of Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) settlement land and an area known as the tank farm, which has been under environmental remediation for several years.

None of these properties currently have residences developed on them, although all are zoned for residential development, with an unknown timeframe for when they actually might begin to be developed, Mike Ellis, senior planner for the City of Whitehorse, told council during the presentation.

Currently, OCP policy 8.2.3 “specifies an approximate 300 m buffer between quarries and residentially designated areas. The … parcels, all designated for residential use but with no current residences, are directly adjacent to the (TKC) parcel (and) … portions of two KDFN settlement land parcels and the Valleyview neighbourhood fall within the 300 m buffer,” Ellis said.

This means that it is presently impossible for DDDC to quarry on the property for TKC, because everything around it for 300 m has been set aside as space for people to live on. To get around that, DDDC is asking that the OCP be amended so that the rule only applies to residences which currently exist within 300 m of the proposed quarry site at the time of its development. The amendment would apply only to this specific parcel.

“The closest existing residence is 330 m away from proposed quarry operations,” Ellis said. That residence is in Valleyview.

Things are made even more complicated because of the parcel’s settlement land status — TKC is a self-governing First Nation and under its final agreement it has the right to develop settlement land within the city limits with the permission of the “governing body,” said Ben Asquith, chief executive officer of DDDC.

“The question is – who is the governing body?” said Asquith, who notes that agreement is between the territory and the First Nation, not the city, whose jurisdiction falls over city property, in which the settlement parcel happens to sit.

“Who in the city consults with TKC?”

Furthermore, said Asquith, the city “screwed up” by not properly consulting TKC in the first place back when the parcel was zoned in 2010.

“In our (DDDC’s) opinion, they (the city) didn’t do proper consultation with TKC,” he said, adding a residential designation was “never what TKC wanted.”

“You don’t just deal with one employee at TKC – who isn’t even a citizen – and then zone all the parcels the way you want them zoned,” said Asquith. “Bottom line here is (this process should) start with proper consultation.”

“Where’s the consultation with Chief and Council?”

The News was not able to confirm who exactly worked with the city on behalf of TKC at that time.

Although the parcel is zoned for residential development, that status is “complete bullshit” as “no one in their right mind” would try to develop it that way in its current condition, said Asquith.

The site has slope that rises 25 m above the Alaska Highway which makes it presently unsuitable for that sort of development, he said. It is the intention of DDDC to develop the area, but first they have to level it out and get that gravel out of there – hence, the proposal for a quarry, he said.

Ellis, who told the News he worked on the OCP zoning for that parcel between 2008 and 2010, said that there was “a lot of back and forth discussion with TKC” at the time.

“They said (in regards to zoning) ‘this is what we’d like to see,’ and we listened,” said Ellis, adding that there were “massive public working groups” involved in that project.

He does not, however, “remember ever saying, ‘Let’s have a meeting with the TKC.’”

As to who is actually the “governing body” the TKC must work with in this case, Ellis said that, “My experience in working with these agreements is that you might hear a different interpretation of the agreement… depending on who is reading it.”

“We have a very strong working relationship with the TKC,” said Ellis.

“It is in everyone’s interest that there are a set of rules for everyone.”

Council are also being asked to consider by administration that a public meeting regarding the OCP amendment be hosted by DDDC as part of the process. Asquith says DDDC has already held a public meeting and that he doesn’t know what new information another one would provide for council.

“First Nations will develop their land and they will develop it they way they want to develop it,” said Asquith.

“Now mayor and council are stuck in a situation where they have to piss somebody off.”

If city council approves the request to amend the OCP at first reading, it’s still likely to be an extremely lengthy process before DDDC can take start hauling gravel. If council decides to require the public meeting, that will have to occur, followed by a formal public hearing at city hall on April 8, after which a report on the public hearing will be presented to council on April 29.

Council will then have to vote on the second reading May 6; if that passes, the amendment goes to the Minister of Community Services – John Streicker – for review. The minister must determine whether or not all due processes have been undertaken correctly.

The minister has 45 days to do this, but that time frame does not include “Sundays or holidays” says Ellis; in his experience, ministers also tend to take the full time allotted to make a decision. The city estimates this means the amendment can be passed back to council – if approved by the minster – by July 8.

If council votes yes at the third reading – which Ellis said is really more of a “rubber stamp” process at that point, as it’s extremely unlikely it would be rejected after being approved at the second reading – then the amendment will be official.

At this time the DDDC can go through the required processes with the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) – which also require consultation with affected First Nations, although in this case that party is also the one requesting the project.

If approved through YESAB, then it goes back to the city to begin the bylaw amendment process – which also requires public hearings, community notification and reports to council – so that the zoning of the actual parcel itself can be changed from residential to allow for quarrying. After that – and only once that is approved – DDDC can apply for a business licence to operate from the city.

Ellis said that time frame is a best-case scenario, as council can also call for extra meetings or take extra time consider things at certain stages in this process.

Step one – bringing the OCP amendment forward for first reading – will take place March 11 at the regular council meeting.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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