Despite fierce opposition, Yellowknife council votes in favour of proposed quarry near Vee Lake
Quarry an opportunity for 'economic reconciliation,' says Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina
Yellowknives Dene Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina called it an opportunity for "economic reconciliation."
Last month, the First Nation's Det'on Cho Corporation pitched a plan to build a quarry off the Vee Lake road, in order to blast rock for use in the Giant Mine cleanup.
COO John Henderson says the quarry would be the first permitted by Det'on Cho in recent history — perhaps the first ever — and a key opportunity to take part in the billion-dollar remediation. The Det'on Cho Corp. said it could provide jobs and profits for about 10 years.
But opposition to the project is fierce.
Nearly 1,000 people added their names to an online petition asking the city to say no to the quarry, which would affect the scenic view from the top of Ranney Hill, a popular hiking route.
"When people express their concerns regarding the potential of interrupting views from places they enjoy, I can empathize," Betsina told council. "In fact, for generations, the Yellowknives Dene enjoyed uninterrupted views from points all over what is now the City of Yellowknife.
"Most of the people in this room live and work on parcels of land that started being transformed less than 100 years ago."
Betsina was defending the project before council passed the third reading of a bylaw that would ask the N.W.T. government to turn over the land to the city, which could then turn it over to the Yellowknives Dene.
He explained he wasn't surprised to hear concerns about the project: merely that they were coming so early in the process.
He said Det'on Cho is prepared to go through a process of review and consultation before any rock is touched. They've engaged social and environmental consultants to help.
"We want active involvement in healing this land," Betsina said.
"The reality of it is this is a great opportunity for Det'on Cho," said Paul Gruner, the company's president and CEO.
'A hole to fill a hole'
Last week, Yellowknifer Ryan Silke drafted an open letter opposing the project. He later created the petition. He also addressed city council Monday.
"We should not make a hole to fill a hole," Silke told council.
He pointed out that the map presented to council didn't show the recently improved trail, so councillors may not have realized the quarry would be less than half a kilometre from the peak of Ranney Hill.
Silke said it was short-sighted to allow industrial development in a pristine wilderness area "that has a special place in the heart of Yellowknifers."
He also suggested city council come up with alternative locations for the Det'on Cho to use.
Local artist Tracey Bryant, a long-term Yellowknifer who grew up hiking Ranney Hill, was also in council chambers.
She called the proposed quarry location "insane." She said Ranney Hill is the subject of a new series of paintings exploring themes of childhood and home.
"It's one of the few places that resets me; it's one of the few places that I find peace."
After hearing from both sides, Coun. Shauna Morgan proposed re-opening the bylaw for debate, with Rommel Silverio seconding, but that motion died on the floor and the bylaw went straight to a vote.
Councillors were unanimous in favour of moving the project ahead, with the idea that the quarry will come back to council during the licensing and permitting process.
During questions to city staff, Coun. Niels Konge noted that the current quarry near the city's landfill has helped keep costs down in creating an area for waste.
"What other opportunities will we have when we have a nice laydown area with a one per cent grade?" he asked, referencing the promised state the land would be returned to after use.
City administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett gave the sandpits and the snowboarding club at Bristol Pit as two more examples of quarries that have served more than one purpose.