Tiger project 'unsustainable' without new road, company says

Outfitters and environmental groups are opposed to the proposed road, but the CEO of ATAC Resources says it's needed for the Tiger gold project which could employ 'a couple hundred people' and last 10 years.

ATAC Resources proposing to build a 65-kilometre all-season road north of Mayo

An access trail between ATAC Resources' Tiger gold deposit and its camp. (ATAC Resources)

Graham Downs, CEO of ATAC Resources, says there's a lot riding on his company's application that's now before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board (YESAB). 

ATAC wants to build a 65-kilometre all-season road from a point near Keno City, Yukon northeast to its Tiger gold property. The road would require eight bridges and 38 culverts.

Outfitters and environmental groups are opposed, but Downs is talking the project up, saying it could employ "a couple hundred people" and last 10 years. 

He says the company needs a road to keep the decade-old project alive.

"We've spent almost $90 million on this project. Almost a third has been spent on aviation and flying stuff around. It just shows you [the expense]. It's unsustainable — you can't do fly in, fly-out gold deposits," he said. 

Downs says the next stage requires heavy equipment such as drills and excavators, as the project moves from exploration to feasibility studies.

"You can't fly in big excavators with a helicopter," he said.

The proposed road is about 50 kilometres north of Mayo, Yukon. (YESAB)

Winter road option 'not safe'

That matters little to Brian Wojciechowski, from Rogue River Outfitters, a company that operates in the area. He said the road "represents a long-term and continued erosion of wilderness and the tourism industry."

The Yukon Outfitters' Association has also written to YESAB, saying the project threatens "the sustainable provision of jobs, meat and cash [that] can persist in perpetuity," from outfitting. 

ATAC has already been working at the Tiger property for a decade. (ATAC Resources)

The Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), have suggested the company build a winter road instead, but Downs said that's been tried.

He says in previous years, thawing permafrost has given way and creeks on the old Wind River trail haven't frozen solidly enough to support the company's heavy equipment. 

"We have got stuck. It's not reliable," he said. "I don't want to be the CEO that sees a truck go through the ice. It's not safe."

Environment Yukon disagrees

The territory's environment department however, says in its submission to the environmental screening agency that a winter trail and continued access by air is "best practices" at this point in the project.

The department says an all-season road to the Tiger deposit carries a high risk of significant impacts to a relatively undisturbed wilderness area.

It says based on the limited information it has, it cannot recommend measures to mitigate the damage.

First Nation could be road's gatekeepers, company says

One concern for environmental groups is that the road would be used illegally by hunters, to reach new, remote areas. 

Downs says ATAC is discussing ideas with the nearby Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation, including a possible two-kilometre section of road that would be deliberately detoured, to pass through the First Nation's settlement land. 

That would make the First Nation the "gatekeepers" of the road, restricting unwarranted access.

One idea proposed by the company would make the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation the 'gatekeepers' of the road, restricting unwarranted access. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

"It would be easier to go around settlement lands and also cheaper," Downs said. "But we're offering to do it because we understand opening new areas to access has its issues.

"We've gone to Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and said, 'if you want to have ultimate control for access, we're willing to put it over your settlement land,'" Downs said.

The company is also offering to hire local people as "game guardians" to ensure the road isn't used by hunters.

The First Nation has told the screening agency in it's submission that it needs more information about the project.

The screening agency held community meetings recently in Keno and Mayo.

Downs said he will also meet with Na-Cho Nyäk Dun leaders this week. 

YESAB is accepting public comments on ATAC's proposed road until Thursday. The previous deadline of Monday was extended.