The territorial government is seeking a court review of the environmental and socio-economic assessment for the first exploration project proposed for the Peel Watershed in the northeast Yukon since land use planning took effect there.
The key concern presented by the government is that the independent assessment board that made its recommendations on the project did not have adequate data and did not make this lack of information clear to the company that proposed the project.
The Michelle Creek Mineral Exploration project, the project in question, is a helicopter-access exploration program on 779 claims held by Silver 47 Exploration Corp. According to project details posted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) registry, the project is located about 120 kilometres northeast of Dawson City. Seasonal exploration for minerals, including silver, lead and zinc, was planned over a five-year period.
In late 2022, YESAB recommended against the project’s approval, finding that the adverse effects on wildlife and First Nation wellness posed by the project could not be adequately mitigated.
The project is the mineral exploration work assessed by YESAB in the area captured by the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan completed in 2019.
The government filed its petition in Yukon Supreme Court on May 29 and drew attention to it with a news release the following day.
“The Yukon government is seeking a judicial review to ensure we have a full and complete assessment from which we can make a well-informed decision on the project,” Energy, Mines and Resources Minister John Streicker is quoted as saying in the release.
“Our government is committed to implementing the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan and advancing work on other regional land use planning. This work honours the final agreements of Yukon First Nations, helps reduce land-use conflicts and provides more certainty for industry.”
The release states that the Yukon government, which is a decision body on the project along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, has identified significant concerns with the project evaluation report turned in by YESAB’s Dawson Office. It goes on to say that those concerns are impairing the government’s ability to reach an informed conclusion about the project’s future.
Under the Yukon Socio-economic Act, the government can decide to accept, reject or vary the recommendations in the evaluation report. According to the news release, there is no legal mechanism for the government to send the report back to YESAB for reconsideration, and the only way to have it revisited is through judicial review.
The territorial government’s petition calls the decision rendered in the YESAB evaluation report unreasonable because it conflates the mining company that proposed the project’s failure to provide adequate data with adverse effects on First Nation wellness. It claims the YESAB office did not notify the mining company of this requirement for more data.
It also suggests that the decision conflates non-conformity with the land use plan with high magnitude and irreversible impacts on wildlife and First Nations wellness. The government claims the non-conformity with the plan was also not communicated to the mining company.
Comments on the YESAB application included a joint letter from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the First Nation of Nacho Nyäk Dun received in October 2022. In the letter, the First Nations state that this is an early project in a land-use plan where adequate baseline data must be collected before project development can begin. They argue that even though that may be new for the industry, the land use plan must be followed.
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