The capital is ignoring the needs of the Yukon mining industry, said Mike Kokiw, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
It’s a situation that has both the chamber and its members “extremely concerned,” he said.
The industry supported the recently-passed ban on staking in the city, but expected to see access rights confirmed for existing mining claims.
That hasn’t happened, said Kokiw.
As it stands, unless the land where a claim sits is zoned for industrial use or future planning, the owner of that claim has to get an amendment to both the zoning bylaw and the Official Community Plan to do any work.
“It’s a very cumbersome process,” said Kokiw.
With the latest update of the OCP designating more than half the land in the city as greenbelt or environmentally protected, it’s a problem that’s only going to get worse, he said.
The Yukon Chamber of Mines was in talks with the territory and the city about developing a process that would satisfy the needs of both industry and government.
It wanted to see some kind of streamlined permitting process developed, but when the city finalized its Zoning Bylaw rewrite last month, none of the chamber’s recommendations made the cut.
Kokiw made a presentation to city council last week to reintegrate his concerns, but the response he got was disappointing, he said.
“Claim holders have their rights but they do, as far as the Municipal Act is concerned, fall under the general rules of the municipality,” said Robert Fendrick, manager of administrative services.
There is also the territory’s Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act to consider, he added.
“It’s really not in discussion, it’s a matter of being tested in court,” said Fendrick.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, said Kokiw.
Having a better process would forestall costly legal battles, he said.
Whitehorse was built on mining, said Kokiw, But if it does end up in court, the city’s actions could be considered a form of expropriation, he warned.
But the process is “crystal clear,” said Fendrick.
Getting approval for working a claim is the same for a miner as it is for any other individual or business in the city that wants to carry on activities in areas where there’s a conflict with the zoning, he said. And while it does take time, it’s hardly expropriation.
There is another option.
The chamber could lobby for a blanket amendment to the OCP that would loosen restrictions on exploration work in certain zones. However, it remains to be seen how much appetite there is for that kind of change.
When the Zoning Bylaw was being rewritten last year, administration proposed some amendments that would have allowed low-level exploration activity in more zones. But before the bylaw passed, those provisions were pulled out at council’s request.
There are many mining claims within the city’s borders.
Whitehorse absorbed most of those in the 1970s, when it expanded its boundaries to capture the Whitehorse Copper Belt.
At the time, the city was looking to pad municipal coffers with mining revenue. Today, with an expanding population and a shortage of viable land, there are other considerations.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that the city is anti-mining, but I think it’s fair to say that the city is mindful of its processes that have been outlined by the public in the Official Community Plan and the Zoning Bylaw,” said Fendrick. “We’re looking at the grand overall picture. That includes miners as well as all the other residents.”
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