Peel watershed plan draws fire from N.W.T. residents
Last Updated: Friday, April 24, 2009 | 4:04 PM CT
A draft land-use plan for the Peel River watershed, which recommends restricting mining exploration there, has some living downstream in the Northwest Territories suggesting the entire watershed be closed to development altogether.
The Peel Watershed Planning Commission released highlights of its draft plan this week, proposing that half the watershed — about 67,000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness in northeastern Yukon — be put off-limits to mineral staking, and that development should not be allowed in environmentally sensitive areas.
The commission panel was in Inuvik, N.W.T., on Friday to present its plan with aboriginal leaders there. It did the same Thursday in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., where local elder James Andre said the plan does not go far enough to ensure the Peel River stays clean.
"Shut that whole area down and just leave it the way it is," Andre said Thursday. "It's the best plan that you can have for it."
The Peel watershed draft plan does include concessions to grandfather thousands of existing mineral claims in the region. Still, the plan has angered the Yukon's mining industry, which warns the restrictions being proposed could chase industrial development out of the region.
Protection a priority
But the commission says it's opting to make protection a priority, which it's tried to balance with the interests of mining companies that have staked out about 12,500 claims in the area.
"All of the tools that we have at our disposal really speak to the need to be very cautious about further development, further access," Reg Whiten, a senior planner with the commission, told CBC News. "If we didn't do that in this plan, then basically it would be business as usual."
Whiten said the plan achieves balance by dividing the Peel watershed into different zones, each of which would demand varying levels of protection from exploration.
"It's going slow and keeping the options open," he said. "Careful land management means, first of all, understanding the land. And the water is what people have said is not something that we want to trade."
Andre, a former president of Fort McPherson's renewable resources council, said the Peel River is a major part of the community.
"It scares me, it really does," Andre said of the possibility of mining upstream. "Everything that happens up there affects us, huh? Big time."
The entire draft plan document is expected to be posted on the commission's website by Monday. It is inviting public comment on the plan until June 30.
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