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Board chair Piers McDonald

Don’t step over the line, KPMA tells water board

The Yukon Water Board has to be careful it doesn’t overstep its authority,

By Chuck Tobin on October 29, 2020

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.

Comments (24)

Up 2 Down 0

Always Questions on Nov 4, 2020 at 7:54 pm

We human's seem to forget just how powerful Mother Nature is. A bit of snow shuts down our everyday hustle & bustle or maybe not ...

Placer mining today is considerably different from 35 years ago or during the gold rush - no comparison there. Reclamation is highly regulated and miners have complied, some even over & above on older non-reclaimed sites, by reclaiming them when they're in the area.
Those Klondike creeks went from little frozen inaccessible areas, to open, thawed, re-vegetated creeks with premium moose & bear, birds, fox ... (you-name-it wildlife) habitat.
I've been connected to the Klondike since birth and I've seen it happening within my lifetime, the re-growth & wildlife is amazing! Admittedly it was not always so.

Placer Gold Mining is a lifestyle that supports family/small scale mining operations. Miners have a connection to Mother Earth too, and all the ones I know appreciate her beauty & her bounty, a lot are now multi-generational.

These miners put in their own dollars (gold) as banks nor government, do not financially back them, there are no loans given. Gold has to be sold to actually 'earn a living', those transactions are now income and taxable. Royalties are a non-starter in comparison. It is not ignorance or greed that motivate Placer Miners, they are very well informed and just want to make a living mining a commodity all we humans want.
Indian River Valley could be just fine, so long as Mother Nature is given the opportunity to do 'Her' thing once mining is completed.

I'm disappointed with THFN objections being raised now. I'm also confused, they say they support placer mining, but then this says they don't? Mining in the Indian River Valley is quite recent so therefore aren't they already under reclamation current regs? What's changed?
Without its mining history and the fact it's still quite active, what kind of economy would Dawson City have today?

I love my Yukon and placer mining is why we're all still here, mining even predates official government formation, actually started it, even.

Up 0 Down 2

Nathan Living on Nov 4, 2020 at 3:53 pm

Placer miners are heavily subsidized.
They can chew up riparian areas and destroy wetlands then replace them with simple man made ecosystems.
The subsidies come when they do not have to do complex restorations and It's a like a free pass to be environmentally destructive.

Up 4 Down 6

Quinn on Nov 4, 2020 at 6:21 am

to : JC, What placer claims have you worked? Enjoy your A&W coffee.

Up 1 Down 9

Spud on Nov 3, 2020 at 10:29 pm

Jimmy, clearly in your zeal to be right, you did not read what I said. Have you heard about the generous royalities that mines pay? Have you heard about the great infastructure, maintenance that goes into mines? Have you heard about the great tax break on fuel? Surely you can connect the dots?

Up 5 Down 5

Anie on Nov 3, 2020 at 1:39 pm

Atom, insulting people is not the best way to help them to see your point of view. Just sayin.

Up 18 Down 4

Jimmy on Nov 3, 2020 at 11:21 am

Well Spud, maybe your a little confused with government funding and government spending. A mom and pop shop that sells a quart of milk to a YTG employee is not government funding. Staples who sell a pallet of paper to YTG is not government funded. Of course the Yukon would not need 95% of the businesses here if the government did not spend their big Ottawa welfare cheque on wages and material purchases. Placer mining has been around for over 100 years and don’t receive government funding other than carbon tax exemption (which is not government funding). Surely you have been around long enough see the difference.

Up 14 Down 5

Atom on Nov 3, 2020 at 11:12 am

Anie, go stand on a creek mined 30 years ago. They diverted the bed of that creek to a manmade channel, dug up the drained channel, sifted through it to get the gold and dumped the leftovers back in place and then, sometimes, they redirect the water back over the original channel....unless it finds its own channel...it's flowing. Now go stand on a creek mined last summer. Same thing.
There are standards in place alright, and we know what yours are.

Up 26 Down 3

Northerner on Nov 3, 2020 at 6:59 am

I am a Yukoner.
I am an environmentally concientious citizen.
I am a placer miner.
I am not a climate change denier.

"What's that?", you say? "Impossible!...you are greedy, raping the land indiscriminately, for no good reason other than to fill your own pockets."

Well, I am tired of always being the bad guy. I am tired of being told to "get the hell out of the Yukon". Where would you have me go?
My home is the Yukon. I work hard from early Spring until late Fall without a day off, making a living. Yes, this year we made some "Profit". Why is that a bad thing? Is that a swear word? All small business owners are trying to make a profit. And yes, we take a winter holiday, as do many other Yukoners.
As for not spending money in the Yukon...well that's just wrong. And we definitely pay our fair share of taxes (it could be argued more than our fair share).

It's interesting to note that if we had gone into the bush, cleared off all the trees, built a little house, and started a farm, it would be applauded. I'm not against someone doing that, but just to note that would be a permanent effect, rather than the temporary one of our mining cuts.

What start as small, frozen creeks end up with little ponds surrounded by second growth bush, and full of shorebirds. The trails grow over so fast with the exposed muck, and soon the rabbits move in. It is not unusual for a cow moose with her calf to hang out for a week or two. Bears enjoy the raspberries that grow along our disturbed roadside.

So you see, people who live and work out in the bush are in tune with the natural environment that surrounds them. Of course, I can't speak for a whole industry, but then neither can anyone. It is good to hear intelligent debate. It is offensive to read uninformed comments from people who like to jump on a bandwagon with opinions they cannot back up.

Up 27 Down 4

kristopher mark Pavlovich on Nov 2, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Should be decided by all Yukoners. First Nations does not have veto power over whole of Yukon. The laws are strict enough.

Up 25 Down 8

Anie on Nov 2, 2020 at 11:00 am

Yukoner32, much of what you say may be accurate, but you are wrong about placer miners leaving a mess behind for taxpayers. Check with inspectors. Placer miners have, for several years now, rigorous ongoing reclamation requirements and, unlike hard rock mines, they are held to these requirements. That might be because placer mining does not have the same impacts as hard rock. For example, placer miners do not contaminate water, and even the sediment that might be added before water is returned to source has standards that are frequently cleaner than the upstream source. Please do some research before assuming things

Up 33 Down 12

Naturelover on Nov 1, 2020 at 6:24 pm

Seems to me, that the most entitled and whiny groups in Whitehorse are the " environmentalists".

Up 13 Down 10

drum on Nov 1, 2020 at 4:44 pm

I thought MacDonald was the leading light with Northern Vision (money from Korea), Why is he involved in this?

Up 20 Down 43

Yukoner32 on Nov 1, 2020 at 12:28 am

Placer miners are the most whiny and entitled group in the territory. They are not some huge driver for the economy like the Yukon Party always pretends.
The truth is they pay basically NOTHING in royalties to any government unlike every other resource extracted. They rip up the land and everyone knows they will never be financially responsible for the mess they leave. Yukon and Canadian taxpayers will be on the hook for that. Most of them don't even live in the Yukon year round. They take their profits down south to places like the Okanagan and spend it on properties and toys down there. The only money spent here is on some gas, food and other small supplies and a few nights in a hotel here and there. And i'ts not even just the Yukon Party that bends over backward for them, the current Libs even gave them a pass on the carbon tax! Which is kind of funny and sad since placer miners would never vote Liberal anyway. The KPMA prez, is a well known backroom Yukon Party guy and they literally have the failed Conservative candidate Mr.Smith employed right below him. It will be up to the First Nations to take on this crew alone unfortunately. I hope they lawyer up to fight these guys.

Up 21 Down 11

Spud on Oct 31, 2020 at 3:46 pm

Jimmy no one in the Yukon exists without the federal government funding, not big box stores, little stores, big contractors, little contractors, big mining companies, the little mom and pop ones are all there because of government funding. You have to be around for a while to know these things, I guess.

Up 36 Down 11

Jim on Oct 30, 2020 at 6:31 pm

This is not the water boards mandate or area of expertise. This is not the First Nations area of expertise either. Traditional knowledge does not have the scientific data to back it up much like with hunting and fishing. But our limp wristed government cannot seem to handle “governing” the issue. Now we see the same posturing in the Mayo area.
Our legislature can have all hands on deck to poke their noses into the Nova Scotia lobster issue, but a ghost town with Yukon issues. Unfortunately for mining or any other resource industry, you will never garner support from the public or First Nation bands as the majority receive their income through some sort of government funding.

Up 32 Down 15

Wilf Carter on Oct 30, 2020 at 1:51 pm

Ha Nathan good points. Yes we need good mining practices but not to the point we can't mine. In Dawson the planning does not have the data or info or technical support to make any kind of concrete decision on any of this. Wet lands can be improved after mining like it has been done a round the world. In fact in Europe they have minded for 1,000's of years and improve wetlands for all species. I have watched mining create great ponds in NS, AB, BC, Ontario Quebec and NFL that improve life for wild species including fish of all types like the James bay hydro project.
Just saying it nailed it. Let's not have another Peel and stop everything because by the activity, that where this is heading.
If they close gold fields in Dawson it will become ghost town like other towns all over Canada.
Does anyone want that? I don't think so.

Up 26 Down 40

Nathan Living on Oct 30, 2020 at 12:26 pm

Noone is talking about shutting mining down, they are talking about setting boundaries and not letting mining activities destroy wetlands which are important biologically and to FNs and Yukoners. Wetlands are similar to salmon spawning areas and they should be protected because the are sacred areas. Any lawyer or consultant who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

These wetland areas are very complex and they cannot be created.

Yes, it means some areas cannot be mined and if you think back not so long ago some miners wanted to mine under homes and under a road. There has to be balance and boundaries which is why the Water Board is bringing this issue forward. We cannot allow an entire watershed to be written off, that's a thing of the past.

The placer industry and their lawyers and consultants have to look at the big picture. Despite good intentions many wetland areas cannot be restored after mining and it's best to leave them alone.

Up 51 Down 10

JustSayin' on Oct 30, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Do you know what bothers me the most about these hearings; is the lack of scientific data. Where is the proof? Where are the studies? They talk about laws, mandate, legislation, Traditional Knowledge, where is the applicable data indicating the reduction in benthic or wildlife in the area?

Up 54 Down 17

Max Mack on Oct 30, 2020 at 8:13 am

Increasingly, regulatory bodies are being used to push anti-industry agendas by pursuing "zero impact" ideas, which is a standard that is not only NOT achievable on its face but clearly goes far, far beyond the stated purposes of socio-economic and environmental screenings and regulations.

Pretty soon, the only industry left in the Yukon will be government itself.

Up 47 Down 25

JC on Oct 29, 2020 at 8:38 pm

Its time the placer miners started to organize. The Marxists - Liberals and NDP - are always trying to satisfy a certain group of the population, which in general doesn't contribute to the economy at the price of those who do. There is gold in them thar hills and has to be mined out. it's not doing any good laying under the ground. It's money that pays taxes, bill and expenses, even the government. But as long as governments are run by these two socialist parties, they will shut down industry knowing that their parent party in Ottawa will feed them. No good. Gold mining has been going on for over 2 hundred years up here and has the right to continue.
The placer miners have been taking crap from these two parties long enough. Now it time for them to co-operate with the miners and let them do their job and bring in the taxes. For those who don't pay into the tax base and live off the taxes of the hard working labourers, should not have any say. The old saying, who pays the shot, calls the shot. And Silvers, remember, you live in Dawson where many of these placer miners work. Stand up to these rogues or you might want to look for another riding in the next election. And for those placer miners that live in the Yukon only during the mining season, you might want to stay up here during the year of election, so you can cast a vote. Don't always count on the placer miner citizens who live here year around to fight your battles for you. Finally, mining is the only real industry that's going to pay off the enormous debt and deficit that these two socialist parties always rack up. Last summer during the pandemic, the placer mining was going strong while tourism was dead in the water. Remember who pays your salaries governments and be good to them.

Up 34 Down 20

Wilf Carter on Oct 29, 2020 at 5:32 pm

Very interesting piece and lots of good information. There seems to be a move to close down mining in Yukon. Just look at the Dawson area, the planning group is all one sided and they don't have technical support to complete a proper land use plan. Keep this up and our major private sector employer will have to close their business and leave. PL mining in Yukon has gone for well over 100 years and it has operated in best interest of all.
So Yukon would lose 1,000 of jobs, millions of investment like Alberta in oil and gas.
With gold prices up it makes mining much more stronger of an investment and return in jobs and local revenues for Yukon government.
Federal, Yukon and First Nations government all get money from mining.
Canada is close to being broke and the money from Ottawa is going to go down so we have to develop our own economy and there are other opportunities out there but government will not listen to opportunities.

Up 34 Down 64

Patti Eyre on Oct 29, 2020 at 4:04 pm

It’s not the job of the proponent to know if an area they intend to placer mine is classified as wetlands or not? I got a speeding ticket, what should I have told the officer, it’s not my job to know what I’m doing. Ya. Right!

Up 48 Down 64

Nathan Living on Oct 29, 2020 at 4:02 pm

If the Water Board is apparently stepping outside its mandate then let's change its mandate since protecting wetlands is what should be the contemporary way of mining.

To destroy bogs and fens or let's just call them wetlands then say reclamation cannot restore them reinforces why these areas need to be protected.
The water board is essentially saying some areas deserve protection which I believe is supported by First Nations and most Yukoners.
If these areas cannot be restored to their current quality they should be protected. Clearly some areas should be off limits to mining. It's the right thing to do.

Up 56 Down 23

Anie on Oct 29, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Yes, the water board is exceeding its jurisdiction. And that's a unique interpretation of the boards role under mining land use - Mr. McDonald may want to read up a bit about agreements made when MLU came into effect, and the water board agreed to include MLU requirements into a water use licence in the interests of efficiency, NOT to make up their own. The Yukon Water Board has no purpose at all, no discretion, no decisions to make after YESA came into effect except to wield a huge rubber stamp and to provide a very comfortable honorarium to the good old boys. And yet, since YESA, it's staff have just about tripled. Guess it takes more bodies to fill out those expense claims now.

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