Yukon Water Board overstepped jurisdiction: YG

The territorial government wants the Yukon Supreme Court to remind the Yukon Water Board its place in the pecking order.

The territorial government wants the Yukon Supreme Court to remind the Yukon Water Board its place in the pecking order.

In an appeal filed on Sept. 1, the government claims the board exceeded its jurisdiction when it chose not to follow an order by the territory’s mining branch.

Instead it issued a water licence to a placer miner that followed conditions proposed by the territory’s environmental and socio-economic assessment board, YESAB.

Northern Exposures Inc. was seeking to mine 332 claims along the Indian River, 35 kilometres south of Dawson City. The Indian River is a tributary of the Yukon River.

In February of 2016, YESAB made a number of recommendations including that Northern Exposures could not mine or develop infrastructure in undisturbed wetlands.

The company could apply to amend that condition as long as it could provide informations about the wetlands and the level of “acceptable change.”

In March the mining branch changed that condition, requiring the mining company to submit a reclamation plan for wetland area.

The branch would then decide whether to approve it and the company would have to follow that plan on mined areas.

Of the 15 recommendations YESAB put forward, Energy Mines and Resources’ mining branch decided to alter most of them.

But on July 18, the water board decided to issue a license to Northern Exposures that says the company can’t “disturb or alter any undisturbed, naturally occurring wetlands.”

“In its deliberations, the board agreed with the conclusions of the YESAB evaluation report … that there would be cumulative significant adverse effects on the wetlands,” the water board wrote in its July decision.

The Yukon government’s change of the condition proposed by YESAB doesn’t mitigate these impacts, it added.

“The board went beyond the requirements of the decision document term 7 and is not authorizing any disturbance or alteration to undisturbed, naturally occurring wetlands.”

In doing that, the government argues, the water board went against the territory’s environmental and socio-economic assessment act (YESAA).

The government relies on a section of the act that says projects must follow the terms laid out by decision documents issued by cabinet ministers.

Another section of the act prohibits territorial agencies from granting water rights against a territorial minister’s decision.

The government wants a declaration from the Yukon Supreme Court that the water board should have implemented the minister’s order and that it failed to comply with YESAA.

It’s also asking for the Northern Exposures water licence to include the government’s own order regarding wetland reclamation.

There are about 136 mapped wetlands ranging in size from 0.2 to 514 hectares in the Indian River watershed.

During the consultation phase, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation said the project overlapped one of the only remaining undisturbed wetlands on the Indian River.

“The wetlands within the Indian River watershed are considered one of the most extensive wetland complexes within TH traditional territory,” YESAB said in its evaluation report.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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