The Yukon government and Liard First Nation (LFN) have signed their second agreement related to the Resource Gateway project.
Yukon Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai and LFN Chief George Morgan announced the reaching of the agreement at a teleconference on June 25.
The agreement covers repair and upgrade work that will be done between kilometres 114 and 171 of the Robert Campbell Highway, with an estimated price tag of about $50 million. Part of that money will be used by LFN to create a construction company that will be able to assist with the work.
It’s the fourth agreement overall that the Yukon government has reached with First Nations impacted by the Resource Gateway, a $360-million initiative funded by the federal and territorial governments to improve road access to mineral-rich areas in southeast Yukon and the Klondike.
The Yukon government reached its first agreement with LFN in December 2019 regarding upgrades to Nahanni Range Road.
Pillai told reporters that the second agreement will provide “provides significant opportunities for First Nation and community benefits such as training, employment and potential business opportunities.” He also said the upgrades were necessary to improve the safety and reliability of the route that links Watson Lake and Ross River.
“This meets our goal of enhancing the safety of residents and travellers on Robert Campbell Highway,” he said.
Morgan applauded the opportunities the agreement would bring to the community.
“As you know, economic development is a huge concern here in the south-east Yukon,” he said. “The economy’s down, we have many people unemployed, so this agreement will have a huge impact in the sense that we’re going to be allowed to… build a company, and that company will be competitive, that company will be allowed to compete for further work, creating further jobs for our members.”
Morgan said later on that the company, First Kaska Construction, will be looking to buy machinery and begin by partnering with other companies as it builds up its capacity.
The agreement also sets aside cash for LFN to do its own consultations on the project as well as traditional knowledge assessments, something he highlighted when asked about concerns about “man camps” and other possible negative impacts construction and development could have on Kaska women.
“We’re going to be allowed to talk to our members about the traditional knowledge in the area, we’re going to be able to do our own LFN-centric assessments, we’re going to be able to look at any reports that are coming out during that assessment process,” he said.
“… I think maybe for the first time in Yukon history, I dare say, this looks like, you know, there’s some real dollars here that are going to allow LFN to do its own assessments as well as follow through the Yukon process, so we’re pretty pleased about that.”
Morgan also echoed Pillai on the need to improve safety conditions on the Robert Campbell Highway.
“The road is somewhat precarious in some places … (it) tends to fall off, one can go into the ditch very easily in some places and find it hard to get hard, so the safety aspect as well means something for us who travel the road between Ross River and Watson Lake,” he said. “So (I’m) very pleased we have this opportunity, I think we’re going to be able to build something here and I’m very grateful to the Yukon government that we were able to come to an agreement.”
Pillai and Morgan said it was too early to say how many jobs or training opportunities the highway upgrades would create for LFN citizens.
Pillai said both the Nahanni Range Road and Robert Campbell Highway projects are going through assessments, with work on both expected to begin next year.
The Yukon government has also Resource Gateway-related agreements in place with Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and Ross River Dena Council.
Pillai said work on the Carmacks bypass is expected to begin in “late 2020.”
About $155 million of the Resource Gateway budget has been allotted so far.
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com