Wind River road report fails to tackle serious issues, critics say

An environmental assessment of a road project into the Wind River Valley failed to adequately consider the full impact on the environment, says the…

An environmental assessment of a road project into the Wind River Valley failed to adequately consider the full impact on the environment, says the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

On December 24, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board released an evaluation report accepting the Vancouver company’s proposal to build the road in the isolated region.

“The evaluation report looks at the project with quite a narrow scope,” said parks and wilderness society forest conservation co-ordinator Theresa Gulliver.

“It’s as if it were a road with no specific purpose.”

Cash Minerals will use the road to explore for uranium — something it has been doing in the area for a few years now.

“Many Yukoners are opposed to uranium, but that is beyond the scope of this report,” said Gulliver.

“So the question remains, does the Yukon public want to see the mining of a radioactive substance that’s known to have harmful effects?”

The report states uranium is a public policy issue that is best taken up with government.

Gulliver has spent days pouring over the 35-page report and 214-page appendix containing a summary of the comments received and details about how they’ve been addressed.

Many of the concerns were said to be beyond the scope of the evaluation, said Gulliver.

“If YESAB can’t evaluate these concerns, if it’s beyond their scope, whose scope is it within?”

“There is a land-use planning process underway right now,” she added.

“This is creating permanent infrastructure in an area where we haven’t quite decided yet what the land uses are going to be.”

Vancouver-based exploration company Cash Minerals is proposing to build 178 kilometres of winter road into the Wind River Valley, as well as spur roads and an airstrip.

The board received more than 200 comments on the project, both for and against.

Because of the unprecedented amount of public interest, the deadline for submissions was bumped back three times, finally closing on December 10.

On a strict timeframe, the report had to be released by December 24.

The decision body, the Yukon government’s lands branch, has until the 22 of January to make a decision.

“This project was tricky; there was a lot of for and against,” said assessment board spokesperson Rob Yeomans.

“But it’s not a tally of votes. We identify adverse effects and find ways to mitigate those effects.”

To mitigate effects to tourism, the airstrip will be located away from the river and fuel caches will be covered with green tarps.

The proponent will also let the location of these caches be known to river guides so they can avoid them.

The wintering grounds for the Bonnet Plume caribou herd also lie within the proposed project area.

This was pointed out by both environmental groups and the government’s Environment department.

There are concerns about the increased activity in the area and the road may bring in more predators. These issues aren’t being fully addressed, said Gulliver.

“When you’re bulldozing a 178-kilometre road, building an airstrip and flying helicopters through the area, that’s not an adequate form of mitigation.”

“One of the operators running canoe trips in that area makes more money operating his business than Cash Minerals is saving,” she said.

“They can fly all of their equipment in, that’s what they’ve been doing. Now they want a road to make it cheaper for them.”

While the period for public comment is over, the parks and wilderness society plans to continue to raise its concerns among people in government, said Gulliver.

“There is reason for concern with this un-thorough evaluation report, which needs to be brought to people’s attention, both public and political.”