Yukon mining industry warns against closing access to claims
Yukon Chamber of Mines president Mike Burke says road access is vital to the industry's survival
The Yukon Chamber of Mines is arguing for more road access to the territory's mines, as a contentious application to build a road to a gold property sits before the territory's Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
"If we want to have a successful mining industry we do need access to land," said Mike Burke, the chamber's president.
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The board is considering an application from ATAC Resources to build a 65 kilometre road from a point near Keno City northeast to its Rau gold property.
Opponents say the road will inevitably bring more people into the area, damaging its wilderness value and impacting wildlife populations.
But Burke said development and wilderness can co-exist.
"There's the opposing view, is access to wilderness areas doesn't necessarily destroy wilderness, it changes it," he said, speaking from a mining camp in southeast Yukon. "But I'm looking out my window at this camp at quite a wilderness area and having mineral exploration up here isn't destroying the place."
ATAC Resources' application says it's used air access to the Rau property for the past nine years. But the company says it now needs to move in heavy equipment to advance the project.
Burke said companies like ATAC Resources need certainty when they spend millions of dollars developing a property that they'll get road access if it's needed.
"It's critical for them to advance that project and determine whether or not it's economic or not, so when you kind of get almost to the finish line, that does create uncertainty. So that's the situation I'd say they're in right now," he said.
"That's like building your house on the Mayo Road and then being told that you got to walk home from Whitehorse, it doesn't make a lot of sense."
He said the mining industry accepts that some areas will be closed. Burke cited the creation of Tombstone Territorial Park in 2000, where a company surrendered its mining claims for the park.
The public comment phase of ATAC's application ended in early March. The assessment board then wrote the company, asking if it's certain there is no alternative to the road.
The company responded that there is no economically feasible alternative. It also laid out its plans to build gates and operate patrols to keep the public off the road.
ATAC said in its written reply to the board that it's willing to work with hunting outfitters, trappers and others who could be impacted by the project.
A company spokeperson declined a CBC request for an interview.