Wind River road a go, but airstrip out

The Yukon government has approved a mining company’s proposal to run a winter road through the Wind River Valley, but has squashed plans for a…

The Yukon government has approved a mining company’s proposal to run a winter road through the Wind River Valley, but has squashed plans for a new airstrip.

Cash Minerals Ltd. is allowed to build 178 kilometres of winter road and spur roads along the Wind River Trail after the government approved a Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board review.

But a major part of the Vancouver-based company’s plan is missing from the seven-page Energy, Mines and Resources decision document.

The government has scrapped a proposed airstrip that would help resupply cache sites and mining crews exploring for uranium.

Important information about the airstrip was received after the assessment board review and questions of reclamation and third-party use were unanswered in the assessment, said Ron Billingham, spokesperson for Energy, Mines and Resources.

“The information provided on the airstrip was deemed insufficient to make a final decision,” said Billingham.

Airstrips tend to be permanent and there was no plan for removing it and reclaiming the land after Cash Minerals’ land permits expire.

The company would not own the airstrip, which led to questions of who else would use it and how often, said Billingham.

“Airstrips, once they’re created, are put on aeronautical charts and there’s nothing to prevent other fliers from using it,” he said.

“The implications of that need to be studied.”

Cash Minerals can reapply through the assessment process for permission to build an airstrip.

Calls to executives at the junior mining company were not returned by press time.

The company proposed the winter road and airstrip to allow for an increase in its uranium exploration, already underway.

If Cash Minerals agrees to the conditions set by the government, the land-use permit would be granted for five winters.

“This is what’s been decided by the Yukon people and the Yukon government, and Cash Minerals can accept or reject,” said Billingham.

The lack of an airstrip should not increase land traffic because the company is already using other airstrips and helicopters to bring in supplies, said Billingham.

The assessment board review concluded the project would have adverse effects on tourism, the environment, and wildlife.

To deal with those effects, the assessment board recommended 46 mitigating actions the company must take before, during and after the project.

Recommendations include when and where vehicles can travel, the location of cache sites, and the reporting and monitoring of wildlife movement.

The Yukon Conservation Society, critical of the project since the review process started, says the government deserves credit for its decision on the airstrip.

The government decided to protect tourism operators in the area but there are still concerns about impacts on wildlife and the environment, said society director Karen Baltgailis.

“There are errors and omissions (in the assessment board review) still not corrected,” she said.

Some of the roughly 100 stream crossings in the plan may be illegal under federal Fisheries and Oceans policies because there are questions about whether they freeze, or freeze enough to allow for a winter road, said Baltgailis.

The society has been in contact with Fisheries and Oceans, which expressed similar concerns in a assessment board review submission about the winter road, but has not heard back.

The government will require Cash Minerals to hire environmental monitors to enforce the land-use permit requirements, but a lack of independent monitors makes this useless, said Baltgailis.

“There are the people tasked with enforcement and it’s hard to go against your employer — YTG or Fisheries and Oceans should be out there monitoring,” she said.

The society is reviewing the decision document and talking to its lawyer about legal challenges.

“There are enough errors in the process — the assessment review and the decision document — to mount a legal challenge,” said Baltgailis.

Cash Minerals has yet to contact the government after being informed of the decision document.

With government employees, Cash Minerals will flag the route and study ground conditions of the exact trail.

Cash Minerals Ltd. was trading at $0.305 earlier today, down six per cent from the previous day.