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YTG jumped the gun on waterfront, says First Nation

It couldn’t wait.The government rushed ahead with Whitehorse riverfront reconstruction work without getting the plan reviewed by the Yukon…

It couldn’t wait.

The government rushed ahead with Whitehorse riverfront reconstruction work without getting the plan reviewed by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

“What raised our concern was how some of the actions did not seem to conform to the assessment act,” said Kwanlin Dun’s land manager Gillian McKee, on Wednesday.

“We need to ensure the integrity of the environmental assessment process. We want to make sure that whole process is undertaken the way it’s supposed to be.”

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is one of the four groups managing the waterfront projects along with the Yukon government, the city of Whitehorse and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.

“We’re not against the projects going on; we’ve been a proponent of the work down there,” added McKee.

In a letter addressed to the assessment board (YESAB) on July 24, McKee also cited concerns about the lack of information on some of the potential effects of stockpiling soil close to the river’s edge, the disruption of wildlife and birds and the types of wastes likely to be generated by the project.

And now the assessment board has joined the First Nation in its critique of the government.

A report released Tuesday by YESAB reprimanded the government for beginning work before the board had a chance to review the potential environmental and socio-economic effects of the project.

This “impaired the integrity of the assessment process,” says the report.

The waterfront construction, which began in May, is part of a $19-million Whitehorse Waterfront Revitalization Project. The costs are being split between Ottawa and the territory.

There are approximately 20 different components to the project, and all must go through a review by YESAB, an arm’s length body that provides a review of developments in the territory.

The board applies the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, new legislation that came into force in October 2005, to all territorial construction projects.

After an extensive review of each project, YESAB submits a report that identifies any potentially significant or adverse effects and proposes measures to mitigate these effects.

“A clear intent and purpose of YESAA is to require that the potential environmental and socio-economic effects of projects are assessed before they are undertaken,” stated Tuesday’s report.

“In this case we are very concerned that it appears a project activity has been substantially undertaken before the assessment of the project was concluded and a decision document issued.”

The assessment began July 6th and wrapped up August 8th.

Measures recommended by the report include traffic control procedures, the restriction of work to daytime hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the prevention of toxic substances from spilling into the river, the creation of a spill or leak contingency plan and the assurance that no equipment fueled or serviced within 30 metres of the Yukon River.

“We have no information about whether the project activities that have already been undertaken are consistent with the information in the project proposal or with the mitigation measures recommended herein,” says the report.

It hasn’t been easy to co-ordinate all the different waterfront projects and the YESSA assessments, said Pat Molloy, the project’s senior manager from the department of Highways and Public Works.

“It’s been difficult to fit it in,” Molloy said Wednesday.

The projects had started even before YESSA existed.

“So it’s an overlap from when the project started because it was announced by Canada that we could actually spend money on it in January 2005,” he said.

When the YESSA legislation eventually passed last fall, the federal government recommended that projects be put through the act’s application process.

The submission procedure took from February until June 2006, during which time the city had already contracted waterfront construction work.

“YTG was managing the YESSA process while the city was doing the contracting for some of their jobs, and there’s the expectation that we would have some of the YESSA completed by the time they were ready for the contractors to start on site, and there was an overlap, so that’s what the problem is,” Molloy said.

“KDFN’s made an issue of it. It’s a small overlap and it’s been the learning curve of YESSA.

“We’ve all learned from it.”

In any case, there’s nothing in the YESAB recommendations that requires any revisions to any work that’s been done to date, said Molloy.

Most of the suggestions made in Tuesday’s assessment report are already built into the contract documents between the government and contractors working on the site, he said.

There are some minor differences that exist between a couple of the recommendations and the terms included in the contracts, and Molloy said he is working on addressing this.

Despite the concerns, the board has said the work could continue, subject to a few specific terms and conditions.

“It is recommended that the project be allowed to proceed,” says the report.

Tuesday’s report was the second of four waterfront project assessment reports to be released by YESAB.

Two other evaluations for Shipyard Park infrastructure development and heritage building restoration are yet to be completed.