Whitehorse Daily Star

Building 17-km road caused substantial damage

Nicolai Goeppel and H. Coyne & Sons were each fined $1,200 Wednesday

By Chuck Tobin on December 7, 2017

Nicolai Goeppel and H. Coyne & Sons were each fined $1,200 Wednesday on charges related to building an illegal 17-kilometre road through wilderness near Carmacks.

Territorial Court Judge Peter Chisholm this said type of activity must be condemned.

Not only did the unauthorized road cross Goeppel’s placer mining lease, but it went well beyond the boundaries, the judge noted in his decision.

Goeppel, 28, and H. Coyne & Sons each pleaded guilty last month to the same three charges:

• using a bulldozer to build the road without authorization;

• levelling, clearing and cutting trees beyond the 1.5 metres allowed under Class 1 exploration work; and

• using a machine heavier than five tonnes to do the work.

Sentencing took place yesterday.

The maximum fine allowed on each count is $500, six months in jail or both.

Chisholm imposed fines of $400 on each count, plus a $180 victim surcharge.

Defence lawyer Richard Fowler of Vancouver told the judge Goeppel grew up working on his family’s placer mine near Carmacks.

His client went on to study geology at university. Goeppel now runs his own placer exploration business and continues to be a hard-working Yukoner who provides employment opportunities and wealth for the territory’s economy, Fowler said.

He emphasized this was Goeppel’s first offence.

Defence lawyer Meagan Hannam told the judge H. Coyne & Sons has been a solid contributor the territory for 40 years.

But for one previous error in judgment that led to a charge under the land use regulations, she said, the company has a clean record through four decades of continuous work.

Both lawyers told the judge the maximum fine of $500 was reserved for the worst offences, and the worst offenders.

Their clients, they argued, are productive members of the exploration and mining industry, not to be lumped into a classification as the worst offenders.

Fowler told the judge in his sentencing submissions the rules and regulations governing the industry are complicated.

Construction of the road, he suggested, was a byproduct of interpreting those complicated rules.

Territorial Crown prosecutor Megan Seiling told Chisholm the rules and regulations are complicated because it’s a complicated industry.

For that reason, those in the industry need to know and understand them, she said.

Seiling said the type of activity allowed under the different classes of exploration is clearly set out.

The territorial prosecutor told the judge when the mining recorder testified last month, she explained when parties apply for a placer mining lease, they’re told what is allowed, and what’s not.

The construction of a 17-kilometre road without authorization was not allowed, and is a very serious matter, she told the judge.

Seiling said both the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation and the Selkirk First Nation called her to express deep concerns about this type of unauthorized activity.

Construction of the road without authorization is in itself a serious breach of the regulations, she said.

Seiling told the judge of equal concern, however, is a new access road into an area previously inaccessible by vehicle. It will, she said, provide new access to hunters, for instance.

Since the road was built in the summer of 2016, 250 mineral claims have been staked just the beyond the end of the road – including claims staked by Goeppel and H. Coyne and Sons, Seiling told the judge.

She said the enviromental damage caused by clearing a three- to five-metre-wide road over 17 kilometres was substantial.

Trees were pushed over, and overburden and low-lying vegetation were bulldozed, Seiling added.

Up to 500 metres of permafrost was exposed.

As well, the banks along a creek were distabilized at four locations where the road crosses, causing additional sediment to wash into salmon-bearing waters, she said.

Seiling told the judge that by building the road without authorization, Goepple and H. Coyne & Sons have usurped the entire environmental review process.

Constructing roads is not allowed under Class 1 exploration for a reason, she suggested.

She said any activity above Class 1 exploration must go through a full review by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board – but that didn’t happen.

Evidence put before the court during the hearing last month indicated Goeppel had applied for a placer mining lease north of Carmacks on the east side of the Klondike Highway.

The court heard how the mining recorder’s office routinely allows applicants to conduct the lowest level of exploration work before the lease is approved, given the shortness of the season and the volume of applications being handled by staff.

The mining recorder also testified applicants are told any work they do on the lease while waiting for formal approval is at the risk of their own expense, should the application be denied.

It’s also emphasized all work conducted must be in accordance with Class 1 exploration activity, the lowest form of exploration that does not allow for roads nor trails wider than 1.5 metres, the mining recorder testified.

At the onset of the trial in early November, both defence lawyers challenged the maximum fine for three offences under the land use regulations.

In reading the fine print of the legisation, it was not the $5,000 the Yukon government has been imposing for years and years, they argued.

Rather, the defence lawyers insisted, it was $500.

After adjourning for an afternoon to consider the submissions, Judge Chisholm agreed.

Geoppel and H. Coyne & Sons subsequently changed their pleas to guilty on the three land use infractions.

But they maintained not guilty pleas to one count each of harvesting forest products without authorization, which carried a maximum penalty of $150,000 or one year in jail, or both.

Goeppel’s defence lawyer argued they never harvested anything, they pushed over trees and underbrush, but they never took anything.

Harvesting, Fowler argued, is like taking a tomato from the garden to use later for making tomato sauce.

Goeppel and H. Coyne & Sons took nothing, they harvested nothing, he said.

Both defence lawyers emphasized in their arguments the law in Canada says words in legislation must be read in their simplest and natural form.

Their clients did not harvest anything, they insisted.

Judge Chisholm agreed and found both Geoppel and H. Coyne & Sons not guilty of harvesting forest products without authorization.

Comments (6)

Up 2 Down 0

My Opinion on Dec 11, 2017 at 11:04 pm

"In reading the fine print of the legislation, it was not the $5,000 the Yukon government has been imposing for years and years, they argued."
So it proves out that they were correct about the maximum fine being $500.00 not $5000.00. Wow. Must be a long lineup in the courts now for passed charged to get a lot of money back with interest.

Up 5 Down 3

Oldlaws on Dec 11, 2017 at 7:48 am

The biggest problem arising out of this is that it’s obvious Yukon’s laws that were made to manage the land are old, out of date and no longer adequate to address the issues on the land today.

$500 max fine? No rehabilitation of the illegal work? No conviction for pushing trees over for 17km?

The officer that found it ought to have had the authority to order them to fix it on the spot. But he didn’t. The fines ought to have made an example to the rest of the cowboys out there to make sure they know the rules of their game. But they weren’t.

Yukon needs to get into the 21st century already.

Up 4 Down 2

ProScience Greenie on Dec 9, 2017 at 1:50 pm

No idea why they'd push the road in without permitting. Not sure the rush here unless the gov was taking too long with it. Still not at all wise.

Totally exaggeration about the destruction. It's below treeline and if not used the trail will be overgrown with willows in no time. Overreactions and exaggerations do more harm than good no matter what the issue. People just stop taking things seriously with that.

You always hear how trails like this open an area up for hunting but that should be easily solved by letting hunters know that there is no hunting by saying so in the hunting regs and by posting signage. Gates work to. Any hunter hunting where they shouldn't is poaching and poaching is illegal.

Up 7 Down 2

Yukon resident on Dec 8, 2017 at 11:37 am

So these guys get prosecuted, yet big game outfitters like Rogue River, Bonnet Plume, Yukon Big Game Outfitters and others are flying in Argos, side by sides and other ORVs and creating roads and trails at will right in the middle of untouched wilderness. Kind of a double standard.

Up 5 Down 3

Woodcutter on Dec 7, 2017 at 10:26 pm

17 km of road and only $1200 fine? Much cheaper to violate the law then do it legit? Who says crime doesn't pay?

Up 6 Down 5

moe on Dec 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm

I see. Destroying 17 km of forest is okay so long as you make sure it is all wasted.

And $500 is the fine for the 'worst of the worst offenders' in the mining industry, while $150,000 is the fine for forestry offenses. We have a serious problem here. Once again the mining industry comes up with no accountability.

Coyne, after 40 years of mining in the Yukon doesn't know the rules. This is either a blatant lie or is in itself very telling about how mining is conducted in the Yukon.

And in the end, they got what they wanted: a 17 km, 30 foot wide road through the wilderness, with no YESSA process. 250 new claims, many of them their own, at the end of that road. The cost? $2400 in fines.

How about this. Go in there and clean up the trees you bulldozed. Repair the creek banks you ran over and collapsed. Then drop rocks down that road until it is impossible for anyone to get through, to alleviate the easy human access you just provided.

I hope the First Nations who's territories were affected appeal this judgement. It's an insult.

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