YESAB dodges Whistle Bend connector issue

Excluding the Pine Street extension from the Whistle Bend subdivision environmental assessment is a mistake, says Friends of McIntyre Creek president Dorothy Bradley.

Excluding the Pine Street extension from the Whistle Bend subdivision environmental assessment is a mistake, says Friends of McIntyre Creek president Dorothy Bradley.

Tuesday, the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board announced it won’t consider the effects of an access route through McIntyre Creek to the Alaska Highway as part of its assessment of Whistle Bend phases one and two.

Many people have expressed concern about the environmentally sensitive area possibly being turned into a thoroughfare. It is one of only two migration corridors left in the city, and the wetland is home to swans, songbirds, spawning salmon, wandering coyotes, moose, foxes and bears.

Destroying it would have hugely adverse effects on wildlife, say critics.

But to engineers, the area is the most cost-efficient way to reroute traffic from the hundreds of homes that will soon blanket the lower Porter Creek Bench.

“It’s not fair, the board isn’t considering the whole scope of the project,” said Bradley.

She wanted a full assessment of the entire Whistle Bend subdivision, not just the first two phases. That way the environmental impact of the road would be considered.

City planners argued the road won’t be needed for the first two phases of the subdivision and, because of that, it should only be considered after those two phases have been built.

But studies suggest otherwise.

An offsite servicing report pulled together by AECOM says that the connection could be built as soon as 10 to 25 per cent of the subdivision is in place.

And with a projected population of 10,000 people when all four phases of the project are finished, that target would be reached when 1,000 to 2,500 people are living in Whistle Bend.

The subdivision’s first two phases call for 918 homes. With an average of 2.6 people living in each home, those population targets could be hit well before phases one and two are completed.

“As a consultant in the mining industry I can’t help but compare the Whistle Bend proposal to a fictitious project,” wrote Diane Lister in a comment to the assessment board.

“(I see it as a project) proposing to mine one million tonnes of ore, two million tonnes of waste rock, but only committing to a tailings impoundment with 500,000 tonnes capacity and a 1,000,000-tonne waste rock storage area.

“I am sure that YESAB would, in short order, send the proposal back to the proponent for an appropriate expansion of the project scope, and very rightly so.”

Residents who attended a public hearing in January questioned why the connection road wouldn’t be considered in the assessment.

And about 20 comments forwarded to the assessment board requested that a comprehensive study of Whistle Bend be done to include the connector road in the study.

“The review of phase one and two as distinct and separate from the other phases of the project is problematic and prevents effective assessment for cumulative effects,” wrote Jennifer Lee, lands manager for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.

Lee includes a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement written by the assessment board to further her point. “The executive committee will conduct assessments of projects that have the potential to have greater environmental and/or socioeconomic impact or where public concern is an issue,” the statement reads.

She also cites a phrase from the board’s regulations calling on assessors to include within the scope of a project “any activity that it considers likely to be undertaken in relation (to the project)” or any activity “sufficiently related” to the project.

And according to the assessment body, the Pine Street extension isn’t sufficiently related enough.

That’s because there isn’t enough “certainty” that it would be part of phase one and two of the project.

“The act tells us how and what activities to assess,” said senior assessment officer Keith Maguire in an interview last week.

The connector road could be assessed in phases three and four of Whistle Bend, he said.

“But there may still be other options to that road out there.”

However, citizens want a chance to talk about those options now, not on the cusp of a traffic crisis.

“The public does not deserve to have a gun held to its head five to 10 years from now when the subdivision nears the end of phase 2 development, traffic is becoming unmanageable and there is no turning back on the extent of development and a new access corridor to service it,” wrote Lister.

The Yukon Socio-economic Assessment Board was not available for comment following the outcome of its decision.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com