Yukon's environmental assessment board signs off on Kudz Ze Kayah project — again

The assessment board's executive committee says screening report released in October holds water.

Mining analyst calls the move ‘unprecedented’

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) is reviewing a proposed project to abandon a roughly 54-kilometre pipeline in the territory's southeast. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has concluded the Kudz Ze Kayah project can move ahead, effectively ending the screening phase of the proposed hard rock mine in southeast Yukon.

Despite "significant and adverse effects" linked to the project, the assessment board's executive committee is "deadlocked" on whether those impacts can be mitigated, according to a report the committee released March 29. 

The move boils down to an impasse between executive committee members over issuing a new recommendation.

The assessment board is defaulting to a recommendation it released in October on the project. That work was slapped down by the federal government.

"In order for the executive committee to issue a new recommendation following its reconsideration, at least three of the four individuals authorized to exercise the functions of the executive committee for this screening would have to agree to issue that recommendation," the report states.

"This requirement has not been met."

Two members of the executive committee determined impacts can be adequately mitigated; the remaining two disagreed. 

BMC Minerals, the Vancouver-based company behind the project, wants to extract primarily zinc deposits, copper and lead deposits over a 10-year period. 

Company President Scott Donaldson didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Impasse 'unprecedented'

Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst with Yukon Conservation Society, said the deadlock is "unprecedented."

"They can't change their minds, whether by consensus or majority, so they've been unable to issue a new recommendation on this project," he said.

In January, the Canadian government ordered the assessment board to reevaluate the project, declaring it fell short when considering First Nations rights and how environmental impacts would be mitigated. 

According to the executive committee's report, it's not up to the assessment board to determine whether a particular project affects First Nations rights.

"This is the role and purpose of Crown consultation," it states.

Another public comment period was launched following the order from the federal government.

Laura Cabott, executive committee member and chair of the assessment board, wrote in the report that comments bore a close resemblance to ones submitted in October, when the board initially recommended the project move ahead for government approval. She lists this as another reason why a new recommendation cannot be made.

Many comments centre on potential impacts to the Finlayson caribou herd, whose range is located in the project area. 

The project would likely culminate in the decline of the caribou herd, the assessment board's October screening report states.

Earlier this year, Stephen Charlie, chief of Liard First Nation, wrote a letter to Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and Dan Vandal, minister of Northern Affairs, stating the assessment board "erred in law" when it permitted the project to move ahead for government approval. 

The Kaska harvest Finlayson caribou for subsistence purposes.

Charlie said in an email that he won't be commenting on the matter until the chief and council has conducted a fulsome review of the executive committee's report.

The next step will require the decision bodies — in this case, the Yukon and federal governments — to accept, reject or modify the recommendation.

Rifkind is calling on the decision bodies to "act responsibly, protect the Finlayson caribou herd and reject the project."

With files from Leonard Linklater