The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) has recommended against proceeding with a road expansion and camp project for mineral exploration northeast of Ross River.
The written recommendation issued by YESAB’s Watson Lake Office on July 7, says they determined the project is likely to have significant adverse affects on traditional land use and wildlife.
The recommendation will inform a final decision to be made by the decision bodies: Government of Yukon, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Transport Canada. They will review the recommendation and the accompanying reasons for YESAB’s decision. They will then accept, vary or reject the recommendation.
The proponent of the project is Fireweed Zinc Ltd., which purchased the project from Teck Metals Ltd. in 2018.
The project at hand would see the reestablishment and upgrading of the Nidd Main Road and accompanying culverts, bridges and exploration trails. The construction of drill pads, fuel storage and a camp for up to 50 people is also within the scope of the proposed project.
The 13.5 kilometre long Nidd Main Road is currently only accessible to ATVs and snowmobiles, it will need to be upgraded for larger equipment to access the area.
The project is located approximately 199 km northeast of Ross River off the North Canol Road and is within the Traditional Territories of the Ross River Dena, the Liard First Nation, and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun.
Work at the site is planned between early February and late November for 10 years.
The YESAB Designated Office determined that the project is likely to have significant adverse effects on traditional land use and wildlife in relation to greater ease of access that cannot be mitigated, and recommends the proposed project not be allowed to proceed.
Significant adverse effects on thinhorn sheep, caribou, collared pika, aquatic resources, land users, plant biodiversity and personal safety were also identified but the YESAB recommendation contains ways these concerns could be mitigated.
The YESAB report contains concerns from the Liard First Nation about cumulative impacts of mineral developments in the area on caribou and moose populations and the resulting impacts on harvesting rights and access to land.
The YESAB office determined that either through relevant legislation or design features that Fireweed Zinc committed to, the project is not likely to have significant effects on bears, wolverines, birds or heritage resources.
Activities in the area of the project include wilderness tourism, guided outfitting and traditional and subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, berry and medicinal plant harvesting, as well as recreational activities. The area is traditionally used by the Ross River Dena, the Liard First Nation and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun. The YESAB report recognizes that their connection to the land “is both practical and culturally and spiritually important.”
The report says it is unknown to the extent that effects of industrial activities to traditional land use activities in the area; however, it is clear through comments submissions by the three First Nations that there will be impacts to traditional land use.
Fireweed said it would be committed to consulting with the First Nations on ways to mitigate alteration and degradation of the cultural integrity of the area.
This is not the first time an expansion of the Nidd Main Road has been before YESAB. Another project in the area was reviewed nine years ago.
In 2012 the project proponent wanted to relocate a camp and store a larger quantity of fuel on site for the stated purpose of reducing helicopter traffic. They also wanted to upgrade the Nidd road making it passable to trucks and equipment, just as the current project plans call for.
Then, YESAB recommended that the project not proceed, but it was permitted anyway.
The 2021 YESAB recommendation notes that according to Fireweed Zinc none of the road upgrading work permitted in 2012 was completed.
Brandon Macdonald, Fireweed Zinc’s CEO and director said he thinks YESAB’s decision is more about general concerns over resource roads than it is about the Nidd road expansion itself. He said under current regulations roads built for mining or exploration are treated like public roads when they are connected to public roads.
“Since a resource road is considered a public road, this means that mining companies such as Fireweed are powerless to control access or remediate their roads when no longer needed. This is not what we want, nor is it what First Nations and conservationists would want. It is very frustrating,” Macdonald wrote in a July 20 email to the News.
Speaking to the portion of the YESAB recommendation which said the effects the proposed project on traditional land use and wildlife related to increased access cannot be mitigated, Macdonald suggested the lack of a legal means to control access to the road or close it when Fireweed’s permit for the area is stopping the effects from being mitigated.
Macdonald added that it would be irresponsible to proceed with the improvement of the road without first addressing access concerns raised by First Nations, but they are currently looking to government for a legal means of controlling access and decommissioning the road when the project is completed.
He said there is significant cost associated with engineering and improving the road and work will only proceed if it makes economic sense for the project.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org