Tourism mum on Wind review

It’s not clear how Tourism and Culture will respond to uranium exploration in the Wind River Valley.

It’s not clear how Tourism and Culture will respond to uranium exploration in the Wind River Valley.

The Yukon department was critical of Vancouver-based Cash Minerals Ltd.’s plan to expand its exploration efforts by building a winter road, fuel caches and airstrips in the region.

The controversial project was recently approved by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. The project generated more public comment than any previous environmental assessment handled by the board.

Though it found the development could negatively impact the watershed, it added 46 conditions to reduce, control or eliminate effects on tourism, wildlife and the environment.

But that isn’t expected to placate tourism operators, who consider the Wind one of the last great wilderness regions on the continent.

They have been harshly critical of Cash Minerals’ plan to build 178 kilometres of winter road, an airstrip and cache sites in the pristine watershed.

Business based on an authentic wildlife experience in a remote environment will suffer if visible development — construction, vehicle traffic — takes place, they said.

In a submission to the board on the project, Tourism officials noted how it could hurt the industry.

Construction, use of the airstrip and summer caches could “directly impact visitor enjoyment, wilderness quality and reduce the appeal of the Wind River as a wilderness-based tourism and recreation destination,” said Tourism’s submission.

“Unknown and cumulative impacts have the potential to seriously and permanently impact wilderness-based tourism activities and potential,” it added.

It noted that mitigation requirements on Cash Minerals’ activities might not work.

“Considering the lack of a regulatory mechanism to control use, impacts cannot be adequately mitigated,” said the submission.

Now Tourism is reviewing the project as part of a mandatory government review.

But Tourism director Pierre Germain declined to comment on the concerns raised by the department in the assessment process.

He also refused to comment on the report itself.

“I haven’t read the entire document to date — it’s 35 pages in length,” said Germain last week.

The report was released December 24.

“There’s a lengthy list of mitigating factors they proposed. I can’t comment on those right now — I haven’t had a chance to look at the document.”

He did recognize a number of businesses in the Wind River Valley opposed the development.

“The wilderness tourism association is a close partner of ours and we understand they have concerns,” said Germain.

“Whether or not their concerns and issues were addressed within the recommendations, I’ll defer to them to answer that.”

Energy, Mines and Resources will accept, modify or decline Cash Minerals’ plan based on the assessment report.

A decision will be made by January 22.

Tourism and Culture will respond to the assessment board’s report before the deadline, said Germain.

“We all had an opportunity to provide comment into the original (assessment board) report, and we also have the opportunity to participate in the corporate review,” he said.

Tourism operators run a variety of wilderness activities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, photography and nature studies.

Most guided-trip operators consider the Wind River one of their “top-of-the-line” tours, said the report.

In 2006, six operators guided 30 clients for a total of 257 user-days, and six rental operators provided canoes to 73 clients who spent 828 user-days on the Wind River.

The assessment board recommends distance requirements for cache sites and roads. It also suggests Cash Minerals Ltd. share information about those locations with tourism operators and conduct certain environmental practices to lessen erosion and other effects of development.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission is drafting a land-use plan for northeast Yukon. That plan will include elements of tourism and culture.

It asked the assessment board to hold off on its decision until the plan is complete. The suggestion was rejected.

One project can hold up every development and every plan, said Germain.

“There are multiple processes that are always at play,” he said.

“I’m not in a position to judge whether one process supercedes another. We’re involved in all the processes because of the importance to industry.”

Contact Jeremy Warren at: jeremyw@yukon-news.com

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