Keep Yukon ore out of Haines, Alaska, conservationists say

The Borough of Haines is working on a redevelopment plan for the Lutak Dock. Residents don’t want those plans to include turning the dock into an ore terminal. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Haines’ Lutak Dock is undergoing a redevelopment plan

Residents and conservationists in Haines, Alaska, are railing against the idea of turning a dock into a terminal capable of shipping Yukon ore.

Haines is working on a redevelopment plan for its Lutak Dock. The borough recently hosted a meeting with Yukon mining executives and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce to discuss the possibility of converting it into an ore terminal.

The executive director of Lynn Canal Conservation said residents don’t want Yukon ore in town. The environmental group recently circulated a petition, which calls on locals to oppose the idea.

Jessica Plachta said if the dock is converted, there will be a surge in trucking and shipping traffic in the area. She added if ore becomes exposed to the air during the transportation process, dust will make its way into the water and contaminate an array of aquatic life. There’s a potential for spills, too, Platcha said.

“We’ve got a pristine, beautiful river with all five species of wild pacific salmon and we all eat from the river — 90 per cent of our residents eat subsistence foods like salmon,” she said.

“We don’t want to risk that.”

Mining impacts are evident across the state, and residents don’t want to see that legacy in the Chilkat Valley, a region that’s relatively intact, Plachta said.

Skagway remains the best option, but for how long?

Denny Kobayashi, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, said Skagway’s terminal continues to be the best choice, adding it is industrialized and closer to Yukon than Haines.

But mines in Yukon may need to quickly change tack.

That’s because Skagway’s deep water port is at a turning point. The municipality won’t be renewing its lease for the ore dock with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which sublet it to the White Pass & Yukon Route railway. Now, the municipality is working to modernize facilities to accommodate even larger cruise ships.

Kobayashi said while the change in direction is complicating things for Yukon’s mining sector, hope isn’t lost.

“If Skagway is not available, is Haines an option? Yes, it is,” he said, noting that the Borough of Haines pitched mining companies and the chamber.

“Is Stewart an option? Yes, it is. We continue to look at all of those options.”

Stewart, British Columbia, which has an ore terminal of its own, is used by Yukon mines to transport certain grades of ore to market. The port is typically used by mines located in southeastern Yukon.

‘Let’s keep Haines the way it is’ 

Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, told CBC News turning Haines’ dock into an ore terminal makes zero sense – logistically and environmentally.

He said infrastructure is already in place elsewhere, which should preclude Haines from the equation.

“There is also the issue of residual contamination in the Skagway port, thanks mainly to the ore that was shipped after the Faro years,” Rifkind said. “Some of it spilt [sic] onto the harbour bottom, so essentially you have a contaminated or brownfield site that can continue to be used for shipping ore.

“Let’s keep doing that.”

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Canada: Feds and Inuit gov in Atlantic Canada sign MOU to explore feasibility of new Indigenous protected area, Eye on the Arctic

Julien Gignac, CBC News

Julien Gignac is a reporter for CBC Yukon. He can be reached at julien.gignac@cbc.ca.

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