The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has extended the public comment period on a proposed mine in southeastern Yukon following requests from a local First Nation and society. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

YESAB extends public comment period for Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The extension pushes the public comment period far beyond the 60 days provided in YESAB’s own rules

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) has extended the public comment period on a proposed mine in southeastern Yukon following requests from a local First Nation and society.

The extension pushes the public comment period far beyond the 60 days provided for in the YESAB executive committee’s own rules, a spokesperson acknowledged, but said it was necessary “to accommodate some of our participants.”

In a letter to mining company BMC Minerals dated Feb. 14, YESAB’s executive committee said it was extending the public comment period for the draft screen report on the Kudz Ze Kayah project to May 31.

The proposed open-pit and underground copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold mine is located about halfway between Ross River and Watson Lake.

The extension was granted at the request of Liard First Nation (LFN) and the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS), according to the letter, which is available on YESAB’s online registry.

“The (executive committee) has determined that this extension is required in order to reasonably discharge its duty to obtain the information required to consider First Nation interests, as required by (the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act),” the letter said.

The public comment period first opened on Nov. 20, 2019.

Under YESAB’s Rules for Screenings Conducted by the Executive Committee, that period is to last 30 days, with room for an additional 30-day extension. There are no provisions to extend beyond that.

The public comment period was scheduled to end Jan. 20; however, both LFN and LAWS requested extensions in December 2019.

In a letter dated Dec. 19, LAWS executive director Ann Maje Raider asked for the comment period to be pushed to the end of February 2020 to accommodate a community engagement project with Kaska women in Ross River and Watson Lake on the impact of the mine.

“Kaska women deserve the opportunity to provide important information to YESAB decision-makers about the effects of mining on Kaska people, families and communities,” the letter reads, referring to environmental damage left behind by previous projects as well as the danger of “man camps” to Indigenous women.

In a separate letter, LFN councillor Travis Stewart wrote that the First Nation’s Kaska Centric Independent Peer Review of Kudz De Kayah was still underway, and that it was surprised YESAB had issued its draft screening report in the first place.

The review, he wrote in a Dec. 17 letter, would take far longer than the 60-day public comment period, and he questioned how the executive committee would take the findings on the review into account.

A schedule showed work on the review would be ongoing until May 2020.

BMC executive director and CEO Scott Donaldson requested a two-week suspension of the YESAB assessment in January in order to “contact those stakeholders to discuss the issues they have raised, and canvass potential next steps in connection with the assessment of the Project.”

In a follow-up letter Feb. 7, Donaldson said BMC supported an extension of the comment period to the end of the month.

Four days later, LFN’s Stewart wrote another letter to YESAB stating that the First Nation’s “current projection” for the completion of its review was June 2020 and asked the comment period be extended accordingly.

YESAB ultimately granted an extension to the end of May, a date that board spokesperson Rob Yeomans told the News in a Feb. 18 interview “adhered to everybody’s needs.”

Although the extension goes beyond the 30 days provided for in YESAB’s rules, Yeomans said that the rules are subject to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.

“The act is sort of the mother document and within that act, it’s fairly clear to us that when it comes to consultation with First Nations and some of these larger screenings, that it’s best for us to accommodate the participants within the assessment,” he explained.

He noted that three unique circumstances in particular contributed to the executive committee’s decision: BMC itself has asked for a temporary suspension to gather more information; LFN had requested an extension and had also received its federal funding to participate in the assessment “a bit late in the game;” and LAWS, “an important participant for us,” had also requested an extension.

While the extension has “definitely added some days to the overall timeline,” Yeomans said the executive committee plans to return to “established timelines within the process” — for example, the 21-day period for considering information received during the comment period — after May 31.

BMC’s Donaldson declined an interview request but in an email, wrote that the company “is confident that our proposal to re-permit a mine at Kudz Ze Kayah is technically and environmentally sound and we continue to support a thorough environmental assessment and permitting process for our proposal.”

“BMC remains committed to working with Kaska Nations throughout the project life, ensuring that our proposed mine delivers a net positive benefit, leaving a legacy we can all be proud of,” he wrote.

“BMC is currently assessing what impact YESAB’s decision to extend will have on our planned activity for the 2020 summer and the longer term schedules.”

Neither LFN nor LAWS responded to requests for comment.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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