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YTG stalling potential city subdivision, says developer

Whitehorse is out of urban lots.There won’t be any new ones available until at least 2009.And it’s no accident, said Brad Taylor.

Whitehorse is out of urban lots.

There won’t be any new ones available until at least 2009.

And it’s no accident, said Brad Taylor.

The local developer is sitting on at least 350 lots — 500 if he made them “postage-stamp-sized lots like YTG.”

Taylor and business partner Mike Mickey want to develop Yukon Pipelines’ old tank farm.

The farm’s 56 hectares is sandwiched between Hillcrest and Valleyview.

“It’s a great location,” said Taylor.

Trouble is, the tank farm was contaminated.

Originally built as a fuel storage facility for the US and Canadian armies during the Second World War, the farm was bought by Yukon Pipelines and operated until 1992.

Six years later, Mickey purchased the land.

“I had experience remediating contaminated sites and thought we’d have residential lots available in 36 months,” he said.

That was nine years ago.

Before the land could be developed, Mickey needed to meet the National Energy Board’s abandonment order.

The order was issued in 1995 and came with seven conditions.

A remediation plan was established.

Fuel oil and gasoline had been leaking into the tank farm’s soil and groundwater.

Yukon Pipelines hired Golder Associates, an international environmental consulting firm to assess the property and work on its remediation.

Mickey had all existing hydrocarbons in the tanks and pipelines removed and disassembled, and removed the farm’s old infrastructure.

Additional environmental assessments found some areas where contaminated soil needed replacing.

This accounted for less than three per cent of the total surface area.

The work was completed by 2000.

Golder sent a letter to the National Energy Board summarizing the tank farm remediation process and environmental assessment.

The energy board, in turn, sent the letter to seven local interveners for review, including Whitehorse, the Environment department, the Conservation Society, both the Hillcrest and Valleyview community associations and Environment Canada, said Mickey.

Before the energy board can give the tank farm a clean bill of health, all interveners must be satisfied with the remediation process, he said.

“At first all the interveners raised concerns.”

And Mickey, backed by Golder, addressed each concern.

By 2003, the only intervener continuing to raise concerns was the Yukon government.

It doesn’t make sense, said Mickey, who spent more than $4 million cleaning up the land.

Environment’s contaminated site department keeps “submitting foolish concerns over and over again,” said Taylor.

And as long as the government continues to raise concerns, even if they aren’t substantiated, the National Energy Board must force Mickey to address them.

The energy board can’t transfer title to Taylor until every concern has been addressed, he said.

“I have no idea what the Yukon government is up to,” said Mickey, waving at a stack of paper on his desk.

The pile included Golder’s environmental assessments giving the farm’s soil and water a clean bill of health.

“The calculated acceptable water concentration for terrestrial life (based on the deer mouse) is 100-fold greater than the concentrations measured on the site,” reads one Golder report.

“And the concentrations of (hydrocarbons) in soil are well below soil standards for the protection of agricultural land; risks to terrestrial wildlife and plants are considered negligible.”

A private consultant hired by the National Energy Board to assess the land was so confident with his tests, he scooped a cup of water from one of the wells and drank it, said Taylor.

But Environment remains unhappy, issuing its most recent list of concerns in a letter dated December 18th, 2006.

“They keep rewording the same issues over and over,” said Taylor.

“They even went so far as to call our work a ‘do-nothing’ strategy,” he added, citing the December letter.

Golder took offence.

The firm spent more than 5,080 professional hours and $436,360 “monitoring the abandonment work and characterizing the soil vapour, soil and groundwater conditions at the site,” wrote Golder project manager and geologist Gary Hamilton in response.

Mickey has been testing the water on the property three times a year since 1998.

Every test costs him $30,000.

Unsatisfied, Environment asked Mickey to have another well drilled, bringing the total number of wells on the property to 30.

It cost another $50,000 and confirmed the Golder report in question was, in fact, accurate, he said.

The worst thing is, the government hasn’t even set foot on the property — it hasn’t done any scientific research whatsoever, said Mickey.

“Environment never refutes our claims, they just say, ‘We have concerns, we need more info.’

“To completely satisfy them we’d need to excavate all the soil on all 140 acres right down to the water table. And while we’re down there we’d have to clean the water too.”

“The National Energy Board is dumbfounded by what’s going on up here,” he added.

But the energy board operations team leader Ken Paulson tells a different story.

Yukon Pipelines hasn’t met all the conditions in the plan of remediation, he said on Friday.

“It’s my understanding they haven’t been able to meet what they said they would meet,” he said.

“So their abandonment isn’t complete.”

Frustrated, Mickey is ready to call it quits.

And Taylor, who hoped to start pre-planning the subdivision with the city, is discouraged.

“I went to the city, but they didn’t want to start the pre-planning process,” he said.

“The city wouldn’t go there because they know YTG will just come back with something else.”

“The tank farm is a National Energy Board responsibility,” said Economic Development minister Archie Lang during question period on Monday.

“This government is not going to accept the responsibility of the National Energy Board and the environmental issues on that land.

“But environmental questions will not be resolved overnight, especially when you are working with the National Energy Board.

“They are very, very thorough in their investigation, and so they should be.”

Taylor, who argues the Energy Board is waiting on the Yukon government, doesn’t buy it.

“Land values are artificially inflated because of the lack of lots,” he said.

“So, YTG can’t help but make money.”

The Yukon government controls virtually all the available land, said Taylor, citing 52 country-residential lots in Whitehorse Copper that will go by lottery this summer.

 “And that’s how the government likes it,” he said.