Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Lewis Rifkind

Plan may spur ‘environmental fragmentation’: conservationist

Some environmental groups are expressing concerns about the Yukon Resource Gateway Project

By Emily Blake on September 11, 2017

Some environmental groups are expressing concerns about the Yukon Resource Gateway Project following a commitment of more than $360 million in federal and territorial funding.

The project will see improved road access in the Dawson Range, located between Carmacks and Dawson City, and the Nahanni Range Road in southeast Yukon, both mineral-rich areas in the territory.

And while members of the mining industry and government are applauding the funding announcement, there are concerns about the lack of information on environmental impacts.

“We’re not supportive of these projects until we get more information,” Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, told the Star last week.

“We’re opening up vast swaths of the Yukon to environmental fragmentation.”

He worries about how the infrastructure project might affect woodland caribou. He said an extreme example of this is logging and oil and gas roads in Alberta, where the woodland caribou population has been reduced to around 7,000.

The proposed access road to the Casino mine goes through the heart of the Klaza caribou grounds, and has an estimated use of 126 heavy duty trucks per day.

The potential impact on the caribou herd, along with a controversial tailings dam, was why the executive committee of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) sent the mine proposal up to a full panel review.

It was the first time in YESAB’s 10-year history that a project had been sent to the board’s highest level of review.

Rifkind is also concerned about the liability of mining companies for environmental control of day to day operations.

And he questions if these companies go bankrupt, who would be held responsible for environmental cleanup.

The Faro lead-zinc mine was abandoned by its bankrupt owners in 1998. The property is one of Canada’s largest contaminated sites.

And the former Mount Nansen gold and silver mine, near Carmacks, was abandoned by BYG Natural Resources Inc. in 1999 after it was unable to meet the requirements of its water licence.

The federal government is financially liable for both of these cleanups. But the territory is responsible for any mining damage since 2003 with the signing of the Yukon’s Devolution Transfer Agreement.

As well, Rifkind questions the impartiality of the government when it comes to approving mining proposals in the gateway project’s proposed regions.

Casino Mining Corp.’s open-pit mine project, Goldcorp Inc.’s Coffee Gold project, and Selwyn Chihong’s lead-zinc mine have yet to be approved.

“When you start seeing so much taxpayer dollars being pumped into a project like this, how impartial is the government going to be?” Rifkind asked.

The Yukon Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is also wary of the potential environmental impacts the project poses.

“We were a little taken aback because it’s well known that roads have significant environmental impacts that haven’t yet been considered,” Joanna Jack, the conservation programs and outreach co-ordinator, told the Star.

She noted this includes increased hunting pressures in areas previously protected by remoteness. She also said that these undisturbed habitats provide a multitude of uncounted benefits, including food security.

But Richard Mostyn, the minister of Highways and Public Works, said the project is still in its early stages, and before any construction begins, it will go through the proper assessments.

“This is an enormous project; it’s one of the largest highway projects in recent memory and it’s going to take an awful lot of work to execute,” he said in an interview with the Star.

This includes agreements with First Nations whose traditional territories will be affected.

“We’ve had some great conversations with the First Nations that led us to this point, the general support on this project,” said Ranj Pillai, the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

He added that mining project proponents also have relationships with First Nations as part of the approval process.

The Yukon Resource Gateway Project will see more than 650 kilometers of road upgraded, as well as the building or replacement of several bridges, culverts and stream crossings.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the funding commitment with MP Larry Bagnell and Premier Sandy Silver on Sept. 2, during the second day of his Yukon trip.

Ottawa has said it will provide up to $247.3 million of the funding, with the Yukon accounting for $112.8 million. Industry has also promised to contribute $108 million to the project.

Mostyn said there is an eight-year rollout for the funding but could not confirm when construction is expected to begin.

He said the funding will be based on a recovery model, government funding won’t flow until industry pays for their portion. And the roads to mines won’t be built until these projects are approved.

Mostyn also refuted the claim that the funding commitment will affect government’s approval decisions, noting that YESAB is an independent arm’s-length body.

“Ottawa’s decision is a tremendous boom to the territory,” he said. “This is work that has to get done. And it frees up resources to do other things.”

Pillai added, “This just adds another feather to our cap as we start to tell the Yukon story to investors.”

The Yukon Chamber of Mines has also praised the funding decision, calling it a “visionary announcement” that is the “first step towards unlocking Yukon’s mineral wealth.”

And the Yukon Chamber of Commerce says it will create opportunities for territorial companies and workers.

See letters.

Comments (16)

Up 4 Down 3

Miles Ocean on Sep 16, 2017 at 4:03 pm

I had a conversation with someone whose employment came from the mining industry. He said he thought that when it was considered in an objective way, the industry did not have a positive economic record in Yukon.

Was he off the mark? I do not know but I support the industry if they do not damage the environment or leave us with now and forever cleanups. I want the industry to be a positive contributor to our economy. I want the jobs and the balance that comes responsible oversight.

The YCS may be overstating things a little but in my opinion they are calling it close to what it is based upon Faro and the other cleanup messes and the history.

Up 6 Down 7

CJ on Sep 15, 2017 at 10:16 pm

Boy oh boy, it's edifying to watch the Yukon lose its collective mind over the prospect of big mining dollars. I'm glad YCS is keeping its sanity. Lewis Rifkind is a world-class analyst and we're lucky to have him here. Of all the people quoted in this article, he has the most experience and has put the most time into studying the issues. Even if you don't like what he's saying, surely people can appreciate that he doesn't talk through his hat.

Up 3 Down 3

trackrecord on Sep 15, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Does anyone on this site seriously believe that the moral character of the person carrying a portfolio has no bearing on the subject under scrutiny?

Up 10 Down 5

Groucho d'North on Sep 14, 2017 at 5:22 pm

What else do you expect to hear from the NO Development people? Building roads to places only those who can afford float plane fees will hunt the area out. The local carbon footprint will increase and impact the ecosystem, the natural feng shui of the region will be forever altered, other people will be making money and I won't be, so this must be stopped.

New roads mean new locations and opportunities for river outfitters and camera tours, new experiences for tourism interpreters with some imagination and vision for expanding their business into new areas of the Yukon. And not subscribing to the closed minded and cloistered approach of the conservation advocates who oppose expansion into the bush for any reason.

Get over yourselves for God's sake.

Up 5 Down 2

lynx on Sep 14, 2017 at 5:10 pm

@PSG "Lots of hard working tax paying miners and other resource workers like their pot jc. Many vote conservative so enough of that already."
Which is quite ironic lol. Voting for a political party which thinks you are a criminal and doesn't want weed legalized.

Up 14 Down 2

Just Say'in on Sep 13, 2017 at 12:24 pm

With the announcement that a review committee has determined that the Yukon Government has been overspending to a huge degree what's next.
Do we cut many Government jobs and cut back programs and Big Government in general?
Do we tax the people more and continue with our bloated spending?

Or better yet do we increase revenue, through good paying Value Added Jobs in the resource industry? Larger Tax base and a future for our next generation who's only choice won't be which Government Dept. they will work in.

Up 9 Down 5

Just Say'in on Sep 13, 2017 at 12:16 pm

The highest concentration of Moose in BC, is in the Ft. St John to Ft. Nelson area.

This area is highly hunted and the moose population is growing. Primarily because of the seismic lines and roads cut through the back country on a regular bases. These areas create two positive things for these populations. First the clearings cut though the Black Spruce grow back with Willow and Poplar creating feed for these animals as well as allowing them to escape predators. These cut lines and roads become freeways for wildlife populations accessing different feeding areas (swamps etc)

Up 16 Down 2

ProScience Greenie on Sep 12, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Lots of hard working tax paying miners and other resource workers like their pot jc. Many vote conservative so enough of that already.

It would be good if for once Rifkind and crew talked about how resource workers are suppose to realistically feed their families if their jobs are to be shut down. They're not really big on compassion that way. By realistic I don't mean that Leap Manifesto drivel.

For sure the health of our caribou herds has to be to top priority but this endless pulling of the caribou card is getting old. Bullets do far more harm to the herds than hard rock mining practiced under our very modern mining rules and regs.

Don't forget it takes hard rock metal mines to make solar panels and wind turbines. Best done in our backyard where we can control every aspect of it.

Up 14 Down 10

Miles Ocean on Sep 12, 2017 at 12:24 pm

The woodland caribou concern is well founded.

As others have said, it's fortunate that we have YESAB. It provides the balance between the dogma of mining and jobs and the overreaching of environmental concerns.

Up 22 Down 11

jc on Sep 12, 2017 at 11:53 am

Really who cares what those descendants of the 60s hippie generation say, feels or wants. When their organization starts paying taxes and contributions to Canada, only then do they have the right to gripe. In the meantime, Yukoners need jobs and we who pay the taxes will see that they get them. The rest of them can go back to their pot parlors and sing Kumbya.

Up 30 Down 6

jim on Sep 12, 2017 at 1:40 am

Funny Rifkind was making political statements under the Hat of YCS, targeting only one Project in the Area a year ago.. now Liberals came to power with a much more respectable plan than previous Government.

He is now facing another 10 Projects in the Area among others 4 top world class miners with top environment records.
Everything is moving forward now the way it should be. Yukon will prosper!

Up 34 Down 8

yukon56 on Sep 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm

“We’re not supportive of these projects until we get more information,” Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, told the Star last week. Lewis has his job which is all that matters. We need to open the Yukon up to projects that maintain a high stewardship for the environment. Not all of us are fortunate to have a job that just says NO all the time

Up 21 Down 4

Why do some people only put out one side and try to stop economic development? on Sep 11, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Deposits for clean up are in place. Regulations are in place to protect the environment and it is checked on a continuing basis by government employees.
Going back 50 years on projects, have no reflection on projects going forward.
YESAB is one of the best programs in the world.
Yukon process lets mining companies know how to do business.
Great job Federal Government, finally we can build our resource sector and create lots of jobs and protect the environment at the same time.
Moving forward is what it is about in positive manner and not in a anti development movement.
Wilf Carter

Up 46 Down 6

exciting times on Sep 11, 2017 at 4:40 pm

No surprises here. Environmental groups just doing their jobs. Their concerns and questions will have to be addressed adequately before anything proceeds. Fortunately, the Yukon has effective review processes in place to deal with such matters, unlike many other places in the world. It'll be exciting to see what comes out of this in the way of development. The Yukon is blessed with promising deposits many of which continue to await discovery and they will contribute to the future prosperity of the Yukon and its people.

Up 12 Down 36

trackrecord on Sep 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Based on Mr. Mostyn's track record at the Yukon News and the WCB, his only claim to fame is word spinning. Nothing will get in the way of personal ambition including the law and the plight of Injured Workers. Mining and environmental degradation are linked to Worker Injury, and this is an issue of inferior legislation, self serving policy, and a lack of social responsibility.

Up 42 Down 19

ralpH on Sep 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Take Yukon's portion from YCS, CPAWS, and YESAB. Leave them with minimum budgets as they expect all Yukoners that rely on resource extraction to live on. That way they will know what it is like.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.