Photo by Whitehorse Star
Board chair Piers McDonald
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Board chair Piers McDonald
The Yukon Water Board has to be careful it doesn’t overstep its authority, the Klondike Placer Miners Association (KPMA) told members of the board on the second day of public hearings into placer mining.
Jana McLean, the association’s lawyer, told the board Wednesday it’s already stepping over the line with its draft guidelines for placer miners operating in wetlands.
The three questions the board asked participants of the hearing to answer in their presentations are leading the board further beyond the line, she said.
Under the Waters Act, McLean argued, the board is charged with ensuring water quality is maintained, ensuring quantities of water are maintained, and ensuring water flows are maintained.
McLean said by requiring the information the board is looking for under the interim guidelines, it’s moving into the jurisdiction of other bodies such as the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
The guidelines create duplication of existing regulatory processes, she said.
McLean said the guidelines contain more than 80 instances of duplication.
Requiring placer miners to provide an inventory of wetlands in the area they want to mine is not the responsibility of the applicant, she told the board.
Implementing the guidelines, McLean said, will place a substantial financial burden on placer miners.
She said for smaller operations, it could cost as much as $68,000, and as much as $163,902 for larger operations.
Much of what is being asked for from placer miners falls to decisions regarding land use, but determining proper land use is not the responsibility of placer miners; it’s the responsibility of the Department of Energy Mines and Resources, McLean said.
She said the board should be considering compensation for placer miners whose application is delayed or denied because of the guidelines.
The placer mining industry has developed its own guide of best management practices that includes reclamation of wetlands, McLean pointed out to the board.
Board chair Piers McDonald, however, noted that under the Placer Mining Act, the board functions as the Chief of Mining Land Use until it issues a decision on an application.
Only after a licence or amendment to a licence is issued does the role of Chief of Mining Land Use transfer to Energy, Mines and Resources, he said.
McDonald invited the KPMA to address his observation in their closing remarks scheduled for later Thursday or in written submissions following the hearing.
The three days of virtual “public interest hearings” are being conducted into placer mining in wetlands. It’s the first hearing in over 10 years that is not specific to an application for a water licence.
Several participants have made presentations. The presentations wrapped up Thursday morning with comments from Old Crow by Stanley Njootli of behalf of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and with comments from the Liard First Nation.
The 10 participants in the hearing began making their closing remarks at mid-morning Thursday. Their were scheduled to wrap up early that afternoon, with final closing comments coming from the board.
Most of the parties raised concerns with placer mining in wetlands, and some such as the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in of Dawson City presented outright opposition.
There are approximately 400 placer mines in the territory, with some 300 different operators. The board has heard 70 to 75 per cent of operations mine in wetlands – because that’s where the gold is.
Ninety per cent of placer mines are family-run, and 40 per cent of miners live full-time in the Yukon while 80 per cent live and pay taxes in the territory seven months a year, according to the submission from the KPMA.
Association president Will Fellers, a third-generation placer miner, suggested the water board’s interim guides are causing uncertainty in licensing. With uncertainty comes reluctance to make investment decisions into placer operations, he said.
Feller said nobody ever talks about the good reports coming from the reclamation of wetlands. You never hear how moose populations are thriving in reclaimed areas, he said.
Fellers said nobody mentions how reclaimed wetlands turn into shallow water ponds and marshes that attract a plethora of waterfowl and songbirds.
With the interim guidelines, the board is asking too much of placer miners, he said.
“They are asking too much of the industry and the board is stepping outside its mandate to focus on water quality, water quantity and flow,” he said.
Fellers said the different governments and regulators need to sit down with the industry and develop reclamation guidelines that are achievable and feasible.
Examining and advancing the KPMA’s guide of best management practices is a good place to start, he suggested.
Fellers said the cost of following the board’s interim guidelines is more than some operators earn in a season.
Randy Clarkson, a professional mining engineer, presented the submission on behalf of the Yukon Chamber of Mines late Wednesday afternoon.
With 40 years in the business and extensive involvement in the placer industry, Clarkson focused on what information the water board should be seeking from placer miners. He spent a good piece of his hour explaining the success of reclaiming mined out areas.
Clarkson said when a bog, or fen, is mined, it’s not possible to return the area to bog, or a fen.
But what is possible is the creation of clean, healthy shallow water ponds and marshes which attract an abundance of wildlife, he emphasized.
Clarkson showed the board an aerial photograph of an area in the Indian River Valley. The Indian River produces about half of the territory’s placer gold, the board has heard.
Clarkson noted piles of gravel left from mining can still be seen, but they’re from the pre-1998 era, when there weren’t revegetation requirements included in reclamation.
With the revegetation requirements over the past 22 years, a reclaimed area looks much different, he said.
Clarkson said reclaimed and revegetated areas today butt up against, and look just like the untouched ground.
And like the KPMA, the submission by the chamber of mines says the board’s interim guidelines are repetitive, could be extremely costly to implement and may result in the shrinkage of the placer mining industry, Clarkson told the board.
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