The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and the Yukon government have agreed to allow the construction of a new 65-kilometre access road through wilderness north of Keno City.
The controversial proposal has been under consideration by the two governments for 10 months, following last May’s recommendation for approval from the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board’s (YESAB’s) office in Mayo.
Measures to control and monitor access to the road – including a guard house – shall be agreed to by Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and the Yukon government prior to construction, says the decision document issued Friday.
It also says an ongoing program will be conducted to measure any impact on the wildlife populations, particularly in relation to moose and moose habitat.
“This audit shall compare changes over a longer time span, from prior to project initiation until at least five years after road completion,” says the decision document.
A Yukon government press release issued at noon today says in addition to the requirement for an access management plan before construction begins, there will also need to be a land use management plan completed for that area of the Stewart River watershed.
“When the ATAC Access Road was proposed, we heard the concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun about proceeding with this type of development in the absence of land use planning,” Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai says in the release.
“To resolve those concerns, we engaged in collaborative discussions and have agreed to set up land use and road access management planning processes that will take place before the road construction commences.”
The road proposal submitted in July 2016 calls for upgrading 12 kilometres of existing road and trails as well as building 53 kilometres of new all-season road to reach the Rackla property.
The project involves 46 creek and river crossings requiring eight bridges, including a multi-span bridge across the Beaver River.
“This has been a difficult issue for our citizens who seek to balance responsible development in our traditional territory that brings benefits for our citizens and businesses with our responsibility to protect the lands, waters and animals,” Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Chief Simon Mervyn says in the government’s release.
In a press release issued by ATAC Resources this morning, the company says the positive decision means it can move on to obtaining the necessary permits and proceed with a submission to the Yukon Water Board.
“The receipt of a positive joint Decision Document between the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun and the Yukon Government is a major de-risking milestone for the company and all three projects within the Rackla Gold Property,” ATAC president and CEO Graham Downs says in this morning’s release.
“We want to thank Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Yukon Government and YESAB for their hard work and valuable feedback throughout the review process.
“This decision highlights the benefits of a collaborative relationship with local First Nations, government and communities.”
In an interview early this afternoon, Downs said it’s not known at this time when construction will begin but it’s unlikely this year.
It’s going to take some time to develop the access management plan because of its importance and ATAC wants to be an industry leader when it comes to the access plan, he said.
Downs said construction of the road will take approximately two years at an estimated cost of $11 million.
ATAC is in support of the recommendation calling for a guard house staffed around the clock near the beginning of the road, he said.
ATAC says in its proposal that it’s at the point point in its advanced exploration program that it needs larger equipment and increased quantities of fuel.
It would not be feasible to use air transportation as it has been doing to supply the exploration program because the equipment and volumes of fuel are just too large, the company maintains
The vast majority of the many submissions from the public on the proposal were opposed to the project largely out of concern
about a new road through virgin wilderness and what it would mean for wildlife populations.
There were comments suggesting it was inappropriate to allow such access to a mining property that was still in the exploration phase, with no commitment to develop a mine there.
Concern was raised about the lack of land use plan in the area and the ability to control unauthorized traffic.
There were suggestions that once the road is there, individuals on ATVs will find a way to use it, no matter what.
Submissions of support, on the other hand, came from those interested in seeing the employment and economic development opportunities the road project would create.
The decision on the proposal comes as the annual convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association and Canada gets underway in Toronto.
It’s the largest mining conference in the country, attracting some 24,000 delegates from 130 countries.
It was uncertain this morning whether this is the longest it’s ever taken to issue a decision document on a recommendation from the assessment board.
Timelines that normally require a decision body – the Yukon government in almost all cases – to issue a decision within 30 days did not apply.
Under the assessment legislation, when a joint decision is required by the Yukon government and a First Nation, there are no rigid timelines.