Norcope Enterprises is proposing to develop a quarry on a piece of land at the north end of the city that’s long been recognized for its vast quantities of gravel.
The site has been commonly referred to over the past 25 years as the Stevens Quarry site.
It sits inside city limits between the Yukon River and the Alaska Highway, west of the Mayo Road cutoff.
Norcope filed its project proposal on July 15 with the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
The 21.7-hectare area Norcope wants to develop into a quarry is under the control of the Yukon government.
The government has already said it will not entertain any lease arrangements for the property, regardless of the assessment’s outcome.
In a brief – one paragraph – submission to the assessment board a week after Norcope filed its proposal, the government notes it is holding the land under reserve.
The government’s land management policy dictates it does not accept land use applications for parcels of land that overlap with land under government reserve, says the July 23 submission from the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR).
As a result, the assessment board asked Norcope last week if it was still interested in proceeding with the project assessment, given the government’s position.
Norcope has not provided a response to the board yet, but company president Doug Gonder said in an interview Thursday he will still proceed with the assessment, regardless.
The city is running out of gravel, and there are still several phases of the Whistle Bend subdivision development to come, he insisted.
Gonder said there is a pressing need for the development of new quarries, and there’s already a huge proven gravel resource at the Stevens Quarry.
“There’s absolutely nowhere else in the city to go,” he said.
Gonder said it’s uneconomical to haul gravel to Whistle Bend from the McLean Lake quarry at the south end of the city, and gravel resources at the north end are reaching very low levels.
If the government has some hidden agenda for holding onto the property, it isn’t saying why, but he wants to know, he said.
Gonder said perhaps the government will have to show its cards as a result of the assessment process.
Under the rules governing assessments, the assessment board does not have the authority to deny a request for an assessment, Rob Yeoman’s, the board’s manager of communication, explained Thursday.
EMR communication analyst Rod Jacob explained by email this week the land in question has been held under a government reserve since 2009.
Jacob said the government is actively working on a plan to develop the Stevens Quarry site for multiple pit operators, including First Nations and private companies.
“To provide a level playing field for the business community, we cannot accept an application from one operator in an area that is closed to applications when other quarry operators understand the area to be closed,” Jacob said.
He said there is no specific timeline for completion of the plan.
“We are working to develop a plan for the Stevens Quarry area that will maximize its economic potential and at the same time address ongoing concerns about industrial operations in the area,” he said.
The Stevens Quarry is identified in the city’s Official Community Plan (OCP) as an area for the development of natural resources. It has been identified as having the largest untapped gravel resources in the city.
It was proposed for a quarry development in 1994 but didn’t go anywhere in light of huge public opposition from residents like those of the MacPherson subdivision located 1.5 kilometres away.
The city and Yukon government joined forces in 2010 to revisit the proposal for a large quarry development at the site, insisting the city needed a new source of gravel given the pending development of the Whistle Bend subdivision.
They spent well in excess of $100,000 drilling the 120 hectares to confirm the quantities of material located there.
In 2012, the city and the government submited a joint proposal to the assessment board for development of the quarry. The proposal identified four specific quarry sites, and possibly a fifth.
There was a huge public outcry again. There were many submissions to the board opposing the project, along with a petition containing 266 signatures.
Area residents were concerned about dust, noise, the additional heavy vehicle traffic and the overall impact on their lifestyle.
Farmers across the Takhini River were concerned about the potential impacts on their crops from dust blowing across the river from the operation.
The assessment board recommended approval of the project to the Yukon government, which was the decision body. The board recommended 49 specific conditions be attached to the project, including that only one of the five potential pits be developed.
The government pulled the plug on the project as a result.
The president of Norcope explained the company’s proposal is to develop the one quarry site the assessment board recommended back in January 2013.
The city has not raised any objection to Norcope’s proposal, he said, adding the city has indicated the proposed quarry site is designated for resource extraction in the OCP.
Gonder said he’s already paid the application fee to the assessment board, as well $4,000 for his consultant to prepare and file the application.
As a major developer involved with the Whistle Bend subdivision, Norcope needs gravel, he insisted.
He said the company moves about 50,000 cubic metres a year. (One tandem-axles dump truck holds about 10 cubic metres.)
The government and Castle Rock Enterprises already have gravel pits nearby, on the other side of the Alaska Highway, he pointed out.
Gonder said one round trip from the McLean Lake pit to Whistle Bend can take an hour.
It’s uneconomical, it’s hard on the environment with additional exhaust emissions and it’s hard on infrastructure like the Alaska Highway, he points out in his submission to the assessment board.
Gonder said having an environmental and socio-economic assessment completed for his proposal would put Norcope in a position to move forward if and when the government decides to open up the area.
Nonetheless, EMR Minister Ranj Pillai owes an explanation to the public about why he’s keeping a lock on city’s largest untapped gravel resource, Gonder insisted.