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City of Whitehorse mulls mineral mining ban within municipal limits

Whitehorse City Hall. Next week councillors will discuss two possible options to restrict mining in Whitehorse.   (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)
Whitehorse City Hall. Next week councillors will discuss two possible options to restrict mining in Whitehorse. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)

The City of Whitehorse is considering a ban on mineral mining within city limits.

The city is looking at proposed changes to its zoning bylaw, as well as the official community plan (OCP), to protect groundwater and reduce disturbance for residents.

One option is rewording both pieces of policy to prohibit mineral exploration and extraction within the entire city.

Under current legislation, companies can't stake new mining claims across most of Whitehorse. But the city's planning services manager, Peter Duke, said there's 72 historic claims, kept in good standing, that the city could issue a permit for.

If the new measure comes into force, and companies want to explore or extract minerals using one of those 72 existing claims, Duke said they would have to get both policies amended again.

"They would have to apply for an OCP amendment to allow it, as well as a zoning amendment," he said.

"So there's still a process. I will say it's a bit of an arduous process, but there is a process for them to follow should this be successful."

A second option being considered is making mineral exploration and extraction as "conditional" uses of land.

That means any proposed exploration or extraction within city limits would require public input and city approval before it could go ahead.

"It's a compromise in terms of an outright ban and our current way of of doing things," Duke said.

Neither of the options would affect gravel mining — which the city acknowledges as "fundamental to the local economy" and vital for new construction in the city.

If the city opts to prohibit mineral exploration and extraction, Duke noted it would take longer to come into effect — potentially not until June.

That's because the changes would have to go for ministerial review, which adds 45 days.

The second option wouldn't trigger that review.

People living in the Cowley Creek subdivision, which is located close to the Gladiator metals exploration site, rallied outside the courthouse in downtown Whitehorse on Aug. 15, to protest the company's permit infractions and activity near their homes.
People living in the Cowley Creek subdivision, which is located close to the Gladiator metals exploration site, rallied outside the courthouse in downtown Whitehorse on Aug. 15, to protest the company's permit infractions and activity near their homes.

People living in the Cowley Creek subdivision, which is located close to the Gladiator metals exploration site, rallied outside the courthouse in downtown Whitehorse on Aug. 15, to protest the company's permit infractions and activity near their homes. (Ethan Lang/CBC)

Proposed changes follow Gladiator Metals permit 

Last month, city council granted mineral exploration company Gladiator Metals a permit to drill and look for copper near Mount Sima and Copper Haul Road.

Some members of the public complained they didn't have a say.

But at the time, the city's director of development services told CBC their options were limited.

Mike Gau explained permit procedure didn't give city staff much room to consider the impacts on residents.

"If an application is compliant with the zoning bylaw and with our conditions and policies, the city must issue a permit," he said.

Gladiator Metals has already pushed back against the new proposals.

Before councillors discussed the matter at a standing committee meeting Monday night, the company's president gave a public presentation.

Marcus Harden said his company has invested millions of dollars into Whitehorse.

Marcus Harden, president of Gladiator Metals, speaking at the 2023 Yukon Geoscience Forum. He has denounced the City's proposed limitations on mining as "an attempt to override the Courts Act" and "to attack a legitimate business legally operating within the city."
Marcus Harden, president of Gladiator Metals, speaking at the 2023 Yukon Geoscience Forum. He has denounced the City's proposed limitations on mining as "an attempt to override the Courts Act" and "to attack a legitimate business legally operating within the city."

Marcus Harden, president of Gladiator Metals, speaking at the 2023 Yukon Geoscience Forum. He has denounced the City's proposed limitations on mining as "an attempt to override the Courts Act" and "to attack a legitimate business legally operating within the city." (Caitrin Pilkington/CBC)

"This investment was made in good faith, based on the perceived strength of the Yukon and municipal legislative frameworks," he said.

"We were also reassured by the fact that exploration has been ongoing since the 1960s with thousands of drill holes into the municipal area and hundreds of kilometres of drilling ... this all indicated to us that Whitehorse was open for exploration and investment."

Harden said a ban would remove economic choice and opportunity for the future generations of the city and for the First Nations.

"It would also limit scientific investigations in into land use for future city planning, as well as damaging — potentially damaging — the reputation of the Yukon and the City of Whitehorse as investment destinations," he said.

"We feel this proposed amendment is an attempt to override the Courts Act and is using city bylaws to attack a legitimate business legally operating within the city."

Councillors will debate the options next week.

City administration is recommending the second option — more public input on mining decisions.