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Dawson City residents consider legal action as sewer work resumes

A Dawson City resident is considering legal action this week after the Yukon government resumed work on Craig Street sewer upgrades, but didn't officially redesign the project to protect dozens of large trees from destruction.

Residents say gov't's plan to remove trees on Craig Street was not properly communicated

Ben Shore, who owns a bed and breakfast on Craig Street, says he's retained a lawyer and is considering filing an injunction this week to pause the planned sewer work on his street. Shore and other residents are frustrated with a lack of communication from the Yukon government, after several large trees were slated to be removed during the project without consultation. (Submitted by Ben Shore)

A Dawson City resident is considering legal action this week after the Yukon government resumed work on Craig Street sewer upgrades, but didn't officially redesign the project to protect dozens of large trees from destruction.

Work on the project had been on hold for the first week of July, after residents were caught off guard by the scope of the excavations and raised concerns with multiple government officials.

At the heart of the issue is whether the Community Services project proposal to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board (YESAB) accurately described just how much greenery would be removed.

Residents say no, and the Dawson City YESAB office agrees.

Manager Katie Fraser pointed to a specific section in the proposal that states: "there are no large trees that will need to be removed from the project area."

"Because of that, the assessment didn't contemplate the removal of any large trees from the project area, including those found along Craig Street," Fraser said.

"The public didn't have the opportunity to comment on it."

'Just move the damned pipe'

While the work was on hold last week, Community Services Minister John Streicker told CBC the priority was protecting the trees, and the team was "working hard" to come up with a solution.

Residents say that on Friday, one day after Streicker's statements, they were told the work would start up again Saturday, without any major design changes.

Rick Kent, senior manager of operations at the Infrastructure Development Branch at Community Services, said engineers reviewed the possibility of moving the sewer pipe to avoid the trees, but "due to limitations with existing water mains, their expert opinion deemed that it wasn't possible."

Somebody dropped the ball.- Lulu Keating, resident

Instead, the government has instructed the contractor to shift the trench "as much as possible" while working within the same design. Kent said they've also hired a landscaper to work with residents to evaluate the possibility of saving trees and bushes on a case-by-case basis as the project progresses.

"We are hopeful that most trees along the street can be saved, although that said there will be some situations where it's not possible."

Residents are voicing concerns after learning that more than 50 old growth trees may be uprooted for sewer and water upgrades on Craig Street in Dawson City, Yukon. (Submitted by Ben Shore)

Kent said the trees will be moved to an off-site location, cared for, and then replanted, costing about $20,000.

When pressed on the scope of the vegetation removal in the YESAB application, Kent said the application states up to 1,000 cubic metres would be removed. He also said the line saying "no large trees" were at risk in the "project area" was specifically referring to the site around the Craig Street Lift Station.

He admitted the application wasn't clear, however, and it would have been difficult for residents to understand that trees in front of their properties were going to be affected.

Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society with years of experience consulting on YESAB proposals, says the government needs to hold itself to the same process that "everyone else has to go through."

He said the project may need to be reassessed by YESAB, or the government can "just move the damned pipe" and hold itself to the project proposal.

Rifkind said it's a unique case and he's watching it with interest.

Crews remove a cherry tree from Craig Street:

This video, submitted by Ben Shore to CBC News, shows the removal of a '15', 10-year-old cherry tree' from Dawson City's Craig Street on Tuesday, July 9. 0:31

Resident retains lawyer

For those living and working on Craig Street, many have now lost faith in the government's communication and planning on the project.

"It feels like YESAB doesn't matter to me," said bed and breakfast owner Ben Shore.

"If [the government] can do what they wish, operate outside the scope, not provide an opportunity for public comment on the destruction of an entire block of trees, then what is its purpose?"

Shore doesn't believe the government's efforts are sufficient or in good faith. He's retained a lawyer, and is considering filing an injunction this week to pause the work until all options are sufficiently investigated.

"Let it be clear, this line can be moved," he said.

Lulu Keating said she is also on board with her neighbours' calls for a genuine redesign effort.

"Somebody dropped the ball," said Keating, who runs a film production company out of her home on Craig Street.

She accused the government of a lack of transparency, and also said the plans communicated by Yukon and the City of Dawson never detailed the extent of the upheaval on their street.

"Why is it all a catch-up situation, instead of having been reviewed beforehand? We're in a city, in a territory, where most of the mega infrastructure jobs are problematic," she said.

"What we're fighting for is for the benefit of all of us."

With files from Elyn Jones, Nancy Thomson

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