Geologists defend mining within Whitehorse city limits

All the seats at Whitehorse City Council chambers on Monday evening were filled as members of the public gathered for a hearing on zoning bylaw changes which would prohibit mining activities within city limits. (Meribeth Deen/CBC)

By Meribeth Deen · CBC News

Several members of the public also showed up in support of a full ban on mining in the city

Members of the public occupied every seat at the Whitehorse City Council chambers on Monday evening for a hearing on zoning bylaw changes which would prohibit mining activities within city limits.

On Feb. 12, council passed a motion to make mineral extraction and exploration a “conditional use” of the land.

Skeeter Wright, who lives near kilometre 14-16 on the Alaska highway, told council this would not give the city enough power to say no to a mining project it didn’t want.

Genessee Keevil, who lives on Squatters Road, said that territorial legislation favours mining companies. She warned that if the city refused to give work permits, a company like Gladiator Metals could ask for compensation.

Others who asked the city to ban mining said that drilling could increase levels of radon gas in residential areas. While others focused their statements on potential impacts mining activities could have on drinking water, wildlife and outdoor recreation.

But two geologists spoke up to defend their industry in the face of a large and passionate contingent of people who showed up in support of a full ban on mining in the city.

“I’m hearing a lot of distaste for an industry that is painted in a very negative way,” said Danielle Heon. “I’m a geologist and I feel I work in a very ethical way, and I know a lot of people who do also — so I’m kind of taken aback.”

Heon said she worked on the city’s mineral assessment in 1997.

“They took the results of that exercise and implemented it in their land use planning,” she said.

“They looked at areas of high mineral potential, and decided not to put residential areas there and devoted those areas to industrial activity.”

She urged council to get more information with regards to all areas of concern — including the law — before deciding to move forward with any kind of prohibition of mining in the city.

Heon was followed by Rick Zorans.

“I’m a geologist, and I had something prepared to say, but like Danielle I could feel the emotion and I feel the same way, like totally outnumbered.”

Zorans said, in his experience, it takes 30 years of exploration before a mine could be created.

“That was in the mid 90s in British Columbia, but I think these days it’s like one in 100 years,” he said.

Zorans emphasised the difference between exploration and mining, and urged council to allow the work being done by Gladiator Metals and Cowley Creek to continue.

A report compiling public feedback on proposed mining prohibition is expected to be published by the city in early April.

Related stories from around the North :

Canada: Gladiator Metals gets permit to drill within Whitehorse city limits, CBC News

Norway : No foreign companions as Gazprom prepares well drilling in Arctic waters, The Independent Barents Observer

USA : Peltola flips script on long-running congressional drama over Arctic drilling, Alaska Public Media

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