YESAB waiting on Holland America

Waiting on a submission from Holland America, an environmental assessment of the Yukon Queen II remains stalled. Meanwhile, the Yukon Queen II continues to run unregulated along the Yukon River.

Waiting on a submission from Holland America, an environmental assessment of the Yukon Queen II remains stalled.

Meanwhile, the Yukon Queen II continues to run unregulated along the Yukon River.

In operation since 1999, locals have long suspected that the Yukon Queen’s large size and relatively high speed may be prompting erosion of the river bank and stranding salmon fry.

A 2008 assessment by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board was inconclusive.

“There were no studies that would give us an understanding of the rate or extent of the erosion that was attributable to the Yukon Queen—and without that information it was difficult to determine significance,” said Felix Horne, who led the initial evaluation.

Holland America was tasked with commissioning a revised project proposal.

“That was six, seven months ago, so where’s this proposal?” said James MacDonald, director of natural resources for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. “We’re all waiting to see this proposal, and then we can continue to move this environmental screening forward.”

In May, Holland America threatened to pull out of the territory if the Yukon Queen was forcibly docked.

If Holland America can’t sell the Queen, it can’t sell the Yukon, Steve Leonard, vice-president and general manager of Westmark Hotels, said during a May 1 meeting in Dawson City.

“We’re better selling the rail belt in Alaska,” Leonard told the Klondike Sun.

Losing Holland America “would be catastrophic for all tourism businesses in the Territory,” wrote Rod Taylor, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon in a 2008 submission to the board.

“The end of Holland America in Dawson will bring the tourism business there to a halt,” he wrote.

The Yukon Queen kills approximately 15,000 salmon fry per year, said Frank Quinn, area director of the department of fisheries and oceans.

Of that, 100 would have grown into adult salmon.

“You have to put it in perspective … that’s more (salmon) than some First Nations took last year,” said Quinn.

Holland America has applied to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for a permit to kill fish “by means other than fishing.”

The company has also applied for authorization to “alter, disrupt or destroy” fish habitat.

In return, the company would supply a compensation package.

More salmon fry could be released at the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Hatchery.

Scholarship and “public education” programs could also be in the mix, wrote Linda Huston, Holland America’s director of Southeast Alaska and Yukon operations in a fall letter.

Huston could not be reached for comment.

While stranded Chinook have received the most attention, the Yukon Queen may be also be stranding the river’s freshwater fish.

“Even as a recreational user of the river I have found dead juvenile fish stranded in areas not normally considered,” read a YESAA submission by David Curtis, a Dawson-based commercial fisher.

Effects on freshwater fish are “likely small,” submitted the Yukon Department of the Environment.

A video produced by the Tr’ondek Hwech’in showed two-foot-high waves crashing into the shore.

Waves from the boat can penetrate as much as six metres inland, noted several Dawson residents.

One described seeing their tiny boat beached by the advancing vessel.

Speed limits should be assigned to any vessel more than 10 metres in length, suggested the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council.

Storms “are a far greater threat than the wave from a boat,” wrote Chris Ball, a commercial fisher.

The Yukon would lose 146 seasonal and 181 full time positions, equal to almost a $1 million in wages, according to tourism association estimates.

Yukon businesses would lose the estimated $12 million spent annually by visiting Holland America customers.

Five million of that money is spent in Dawson City, read a 2007 report by the department of tourism.

Without the Yukon Queen, “my operation would not be viable,” wrote Diana Andrew, owner of Dawson City’s Dancing Moose Gifts.

Andrew attributes 26 per cent of her revenue to Holland America tourists.

“I understand that bank erosion is a concern for some people, however, after seeing how the Yukon river has carved new channels and changed its own course … I would conclude that some erosion is a natural, healthy part of any river system,” said Greg Kehoe, a goldsmith at the Carcross Barracks gift shop in Carcross.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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