Refuting Mr. Rifkind
This letter is in response to the Yukon Conservation Society letter reported in the News Nov. 30.
Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society thinks there’s a lack of scrutiny by non-government organizations happening in smaller communities regarding solid waste management. He is very mistaken. We are very aware of the garbage picture in our community, and who produces it. We are the ones picking up roadside litter from tourists and contractors, we are the business owners paying staff to keep ditches along highways pristine. It is upsetting to have another non-rural individual talking about us, rather than to us.
YG might be proud of their supposed 30 meetings held on solid waste since 2019 - I’d love to see a compiled list - but they completed zero meetings prior to the release of the 2018 Ministerial Committee on Solid Waste Report.
This is the critical time period when YG should have sought views and gained inputs from rural Yukon, as the recommendations had the biggest effect on us. These findings should have been included in the 2018 MSCSW Report but they are glaringly absent. There is no What We Heard Report. This is why Keno City, Silver City, Braeburn and Johnson’s Crossing are adamant about there having been no consultation, because prior to showing up in our communities and announcing the plan for closures, there were no meetings at all.
An announcement after the fact, doesn’t constitute consultation. Being forced to consult with us now about household solid waste “options” because of the CASA agreement, while remaining adamant about the closures, is just YG going through the motions.
The communities of Keno City and Silver City have, for years, attempted to work with YG to make transfer stations more secure and effective by asking for them to be gated and locked. These requests have never been fulfilled. The lack of gating and attendants has become a key argument for closing our much-needed facilities, with Minister Richard Mostyn stoking fears of “nasty stuff” being dumped at unsupervised transfer stations.
I think Mr. Rifkind, and News readers would be surprised to learn that the solid waste issue has been continuously studied for 14 years and the best solution they’ve come up with is to close four rural transfer stations. Fourteen years of working groups, consultants and YG staffers studying solid waste without ever talking to us or considering the realities of rural Yukoners. How much money was thrown at the issue over those 14 years, without any actionable outcomes? In all that time, the cheapest and easiest solution - gating and locking - hasn’t happened. Gates and locks would all but eliminate unauthorized users and unauthorized materials from being left at the sites and causing environmental damage.
Mr. Rifkind is rightfully concerned about liquid hazardous materials getting into ground and surface waters. Again this can be mitigated with gates and locks; remember we’re talking about transfer stations (with above ground dumpsters) and not landfills. However, ground and surface water pollution isn’t happening at Silver City, nor was it happening in Keno, per reporting. In Keno’s case, reports consistently show that five out of six monitoring wells are dry with the sixth producing a middling sample. There is no threat to groundwater or nearby water bodies. What has been largely detected at Keno’s shuttered transfer station is historic contamination from mining. According to a CTV news story from Nov.27, 2022, United Keno Hill Mines is one of Canada’s top five contaminated sites. Characterizing household waste as “sleeping toxic nightmares” is particularly galling given that Keno City is literally located amidst one of Canada’s most contaminated sites.
What we’ve been told repeatedly by YG is that our garbage becomes a problem when it gets transferred to the Whitehorse landfill. Which begs the question… why can’t YG be innovative and deal with our garbage at the source, in our communities? For reference, it took Keno residents eight months to fill four dumpsters (and even then they weren’t completely full). Surely that volume of garbage could be dealt with at the source, negating the need for costly transport to Whitehorse? Keno and Silver City have pitched many good ideas over the years, including composting, but YG’s paternalistic, we-know-best attitude has always prevailed. This also ensures that the anticipated job creation mentioned in the News story stays in Whitehorse and not in our communities. Mr. Rifkind has accepted YG’s spin-doctoring, that environmentally and fiscally appropriate solutions for small communities can’t be found. They can, but YG is doggedly determined to disallow solid waste in our communities.
What is a “reasonable distance” for waste dumping? Silver City residents will have to travel 100 kilometres round trip to go to Haines Junction and Kenoites will have to travel 120 km round trip to Mayo, if the Hecla solution fails. This much-touted solution, while appreciated, isn’t long-term (as far as we know). Hecla are good community partners, but there is no formal agreement binding them to keep up with Keno’s garbage collection. And why should there be? They’re here to mine. They could walk away from their community service at any time, leaving people to travel 120 km round trip. It also flies in the face of the emissions reductions that YG is so pleased to brag about.
I submit that the Yukon Conservation Society’s concerns are well-intentioned but their focus is misplaced. They should be scrutinizing YG’s handling of this file and asking:
• Why does YG have so little to show after 14 years of study?
• If YG is so environmentally motivated, why have they been so lax with recycling? (They removed recycling from Keno long before they shuttered the transfer station and there has never been recycling at the Stewart Crossing transfer station).
• Why has YG refused to gate and lock the four rural transfer stations, even as they have complained about the “nasty stuff” and dump shopping? Wouldn’t that have solved the problem immediately?
• Why does YG think it’s appropriate to continue its removal of vital services from rural communities (transfer stations, fire services, health center closures, post office closures) when it wouldn’t dare to do the same in Whitehorse?
• Why does YG think it’s appropriate to ask private businesses to deliver solid waste services? (as suggested to Silver City and as has been done in Keno)
• Why is YG punishing rural Yukoners and turning a blind eye to landfills for mines? (permitting is in place for 11 landfills around Keno)