Dawson City, Yukon Friday, January 31, 2003

Winter finally arrived with temperatures below -30 C for the first time in the middle of January. Here, the Grade 2 class at the Robert Service School bundles up and braves -36 C to take a picture for their e-mail pals in Calgary. Photo by Betty Davidson

Feature Stories

Dawson Gets a New Post Office
Growing Pains at the Post Office
Council Moves to Make Fire-fighting Safer
Dawson Utility Rates Rise but Payments Are More Manageable
Oh, He Flew Through the Air...
Miners' Protest Letters
The Yukon Placer Mining Industry Buyout

Welcome to the January 31, 2003 edition of the online Klondike Sun, which reproduces a selection of the 17 photographs and 23 articles that were in the 24 page January 28 hard copy edition.

The hard copy also contains Doug Urquhart's famous "Paws" cartoon strip, our homegrown crossword puzzle, the Fraser's Edge and obviously, all the other material you won't find here.

We encourage viewers of this website to consider subscribing to the Sun. It would help us financially and you would get to see everything closer to when it's actually news. About 989 people read the last online issue of this paper (that's 46.389 hits since July 2000 and about 25,000 on the original counter before that - it began in March 1996), and we'd love to be sending out that many more papers. See our home page for subscription information.

An Appeal to Our Readers

A donation (we do give receipts) would help us to keep this website alive and also assist in the purchase of new equipment for our office. The address is on our home page. In case you hadn't noticed, we are a not-for-profit organization running on a shoestring with a part time employee and advertising revenue which has been hurt by the territory's sluggish economy.

Dawson Gets a New Post Office

by Dan Davidson


On the same day, the new Post Office was almost ready to be occupied. Photo by Dan Davidson

Dawsonites started off the new year by saying farewell to a familiar stopping place and welcoming a new one.

Saturday, January 11 was the last day of business for the 5th Avenue branch of Canada Post, housed in what was formerly a federally owned building across the street from the Robert Service School. Friday had been the last full day, and anyone visiting during the Saturday morning half-day witnessed a space which had already lost a good portion of its identity, a process which began last winter when it was sold to a local company.

Down on 3rd Avenue the new Canada Post building, south on the opposite side of the street from Park's Canada's restored original Post Office, was getting the finishing touches applied. New boxes were in place, the door on the loading bay was getting its final workout and, over the weekend, the two computerized work stations were moved in and installed.

Monday marked the first day of the new operation. Needless to say, a few cars still pulled up at 5th Avenue and a few residents who hadn't been paying attention still shook their heads and marvelled, but most of the transition seemed to go pretty smoothly.

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Growing Pains at the Post Office

by Dan Davidson


Postmaster Lambert Curzon surveys the lobby from one of the two customer stations in the new post office. Photo by Dan Davidson

Every new facility has a breaking in period, a time when a few things don't quite work out right. The new Canada Post Office on Third Avenue is no exception to this general rule, according to Postmaster Lambert Curzon.

One of the interesting features of the new building is the automatic security system, which locks and unlocks the doors at preset times. Well,. it's supposed to.

Last Monday, a week after the new building opened, the doors locked at 12:30 p.m. - and stayed that way until 10 minutes past five when a technician arrived to fix the problem. This was the day that customers got an unexpected tour of the hidden rear depths of the new building, which are finished (or unfinished) at a far lower level of aesthetic value than the snazzy retail area out front. But the people had to get their mail, so the staff led them in through the back door.

On another day the opposite problem occurred. The outer doors lock automatically at 8:00 p.m., three hours after the retail section has shut down. A customer arrived just before the half hour to check his box and was the first to discover that the locking mechanism also affects the crash bar on the inside of the door.

According to Curzon this high tech door is supposed to be skin sensitive, and allow people through. It wasn't sensitive to this man's skin, and he was trapped in there for some time until his banging on the door finally attracted some attention on that largely deserted stretch of 3rd Avenue. The rescuer contacted one of the postal clerks, who contacted Curzon, who came down to the office and let the man out.

That problem is supposed to be fixed shortly.

For a brief time early in the second week the post office lobby became a second skating rink for the town. The first time the floors were cleaned and polished they became incredibly slippery, and melting snow on peoples' boots completed the process. Curzon was out buying mats in no time and that problem was fixed.

The postmaster seems most perplexed by the level of security that has been installed in the new building. In his years since 1979 the Dawson office has been broken into once and that time someone stole a dollar. Now, each employee has an individual code number and has to punch in and out every day.

More of a surprise was the realization that the signals from the keypad were going straight to Ottawa where they tell the head office who entered the building when, how long they stayed there and when they checked out.

"They phoned me the other morning to say that somebody entered the building at 5:28 a.m. and there must be some mistake.

"I told them no, it was me. I went and worked early two mornings in a row at 5:30. They were able to detect that."

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Council Moves to Make Fire-fighting Safer

by Dan Davidson

Dawson's council is worried about potential danger to its fire fighters and intends to address the problem by requiring the owners of commercial buildings that are unoccupied for long periods of time seasonally to hook up to the town's fire alarm monitoring system.

"As you know," said Mayor Glen Everitt, "a fire can embed itself and burn for hours before anyone knows it's there.

"We're sending out fire crew into places that ... could have been smoldering for five or six hours - and putting their lives on the line.

"If (the building) was on a monitoring panel, they could be alerted at the beginning of the fire, before it's too late."

Everitt says the impetus for this bylaw change was an incident win northern Ontario where a group of volunteer fire fighters had fallen through a floor in an unused building as a result of a fire that was not detected early.

The bylaw change received first reading on January 13 in order to get the idea on the table and into the public domain. Everitt says he is expecting reactions and input from members of the business community and wants to encourage that before the bylaw moves any further.

In first draft, the bylaw specifies commercial buildings of over 500 square feet that are not used for periods longer than 90 days. This is where the fire department and the council think the problem might lie.

If a business owner refuses to comply with this arrangement the department's practice will be to concentrate on saving the adjacent buildings rather than attacking the fire inside the building on fire.

"We're a wooden town, we have some old buildings and there is a huge risk to our fire department."

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Dawson Utility Rates Rise but Payments Are More Manageable

by Dan Davidson

Dawson's annual Utility Bills are out, having been issued in mid-January as expected. The bills cover sewer and water connections in the community as well as a small extra charge for management of the Quigley Land Fill.

Residents will notice a $75 hike over last year's rates, as was predicted in 2001, hinted at throughout 2002, and announced at Mayor Everitt's fall public information meeting.

This year, as last, council has moved to making splitting up the bill into four quarterly payments. This has the twin effects of evening out the city's incoming cash flow over the year and making smaller payments less of an immediate burden on the rate payers.

The flat rate for a residential property this year is $1675.00. A subsidy knocks a total of $575.00 off that for those who meet the payment deadlines, bring the total bill down to $1100.00.

This may be paid in four installments of $418.75 each, with the subsidy reducing the actual payment to $275 per quarter.

The bill includes a payment schedule which can be used as a checklist.

As Dawson moves into the era of secondary sewage treatment the S&W portion of the utility bill can be expected to continue rising over the next few years. Council has sought assurances of some kind of rate relief from the last three territorial governments, but so far no progress has been made on this.

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Oh, He Flew Through the Air...

by Dan Davidson


The show ends where it began, balancing on the edge of a pratfall. Photo by Dan Davidson

It's so nice to meet a fellow who really enjoys his work. It's even better if he is good at it. That was the case with Flying Bob Palmer, who visited here on January 12, and quite literally hung around in the school gymnasium for an hour or so.

The 46 year old Palmer juggled balls and clubs, suspended a youngster from his tightrope, balanced another on his head, wrote in the air with a veeerry long ribbon, demonstrated the rare art of sound system juggling and generally kept the audience well entertained during his entire performance.

He also kept up a running patter during the entire show, working in a few adult level jokes about premiers with drinking problems and making sure that his audience knew almost everything he was up to at any given moment.

(There was the matter of how he got that bowling ball into that slender briefcase, but a fellow needs to keep a few secrets, right?)

During and after the show Palmer let it be known that he once led a normal life, had a series of 9-5 jobs and even stayed in one for ten years once.

But the manager of a book and magazine warehouse had a secret life at home, where he taught himself to juggle after being fascinated by an exhibition of the skill (and buying a very bad, useless book on the subject), where he and a buddy strung up a line in the backyard and learned to walk on wires (hard on the feet at first, but you get over it) and where he put a number of holes in the wall of a basement room while learning to ride a unicycle (incidentally mastering the skill of drywalling and plastering afterwards).

Hobbies are dangerous. Sometimes they take over your life and you find that there's no room for what you used to do for a living. That was Palmer's fate. He began performing and there was no looking back. Now he travels all over the country entertaining in school gyms and having the time of his life.

"It sure beats working for a living," he told me after the show.

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Miners' Protest Letters

The decision by the Dept. of Fisheries to do away with the Yukon Placer Authorization has prompted as flood of letters to all the territorial papers. Being a bi-weekly, we can only handle a few of them. Here are some samples.

We've Been Sold Out

by Willy Fellers

Minister Thibault,

SOLD OUT!

People of the Yukon, we've been sold out, when it comes to trying to keep our economy going. Of course once again by the Yukon Conservation Society( YCS) , but now the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board (YFWMB) and the Yukon Salmon Committee (YSC). These organizations sat in for the review of the Yukon Placer Authorization (YPA) and the Salmon committee has a seat on the Yukon Placer Committee (YPC). It appears that some of the people that sit on these committees and boards may have been taking YCS training at the local YCS office. Now do not get the YCS and the YSC mixed up. There is a couple of differences that I can see. The YSC members are appointed to the committee to represent salmon and I would hope Yukoners in some sense. The budget for the YSC, from what I can tell, keeps growing and growing. Guess what! The Department of Fisheries runs and funds this committee. The Yukon Conservation Society carefully hires its people with money from special interest groups. So there are some differences.

The Yukon Salmon Committee was originally supposed to be a sub-committee of the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, set up under the umbrella final agreement. I question whether it is actually a sub committee of YFWMB or an extra arm for Department of Fisheries (DFO). Some of the members of the YFWMB also questioned that at an April 2002 meeting. The YFWMB is supposed to represent the people of the Yukon in some sense.

I asked a member of the Dawson District Renewable Resource Council (DDRRC) who's traditional territory includes about 80% of actual placer mining in the Yukon, if they supported the YPA. I was told it was a big issue for that council and the confusion with the science and not enough resources to check it out, they decided to look into traditional knowledge as a tool. In using traditional knowledge, they were able to reach consensus and support the YPA. How come the YFWMB wouldn't take the DDRRC into consideration when 80% of placer mining occurs in there traditional territory. There's no mention of DDRRCís input to the review in any of the YFWMB minutes going back two years.

Gerry Couture from Dawson, who is an appointed YTG member to the YFWMB, was representing the YFWMB and updating the YFWMB in regards to the YPA. I question Gerry Couture's actions. Does he not believe in traditional knowledge? Did Mr. Couture inform the YFWMB of the tremendous support for the YPA from his community and from the local DDRRC? If he did, why is it not in the minutes of YFWMB meetings, or does the YFWMB have its own private agenda?

DFO's news release came out on December 16 and the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board's news release stating that they were pleased with DFO's new direction, came out 10:00 am on December 18. Did the chair of YFWMB make this decision? Or was it staff member Kelly Hayes and member Gerry Couture as stated in the news release? Did they have full support from the board at the time? Mr. Couture is also on the Yukon Salmon Committee and Yukon River Panel which is also directed by DFO in a big way.

Mr. Couture, on CBC radio December 20, stated that, "in the next five years, we would have probably ended up in the same place". I read the report put forth by the Yukon Placer Committee and it did not say that. What information does he have that no one else has? Does the Yukon Salmon Committee or the YFWMB know what he meant when he was representing them on the radio? Mr. Couture's radio broadcast in my opinion did not represent any one else's views except his own and a few others.

The people who are appointed to these boards, committees and councils, are being paid anywhere from $200 to $400 per day for meetings to represent their traditional territories and the people of their communities. As a citizen of this community and traditional territory for all my life, I feel YFWMB, YSC, DFO, YCS, sold us out for their own personal agenda and did not represent the whole of the Yukon. I think the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board did not show any respect to the Dawson District Renewable Resource Council and its members.

I urge the people of Dawson and the people of the Yukon, whether you work at the grocery stores, hardware stores, industrial supply stores, First Nation Governments, YTG, and Federal governments, you have to get involved to keep these organizations from a private agenda brought forth by a few members with outside influences.

Balancer, What Balance?

by Ralph Nordling

For many years, balance has been the war cry of environmental groups. Today with reference to the canceling of the Yukon Placer Authority (YPA) I have not heard them mention it once.

In a balanced political climate, development decisions are made with serious consideration for Society, Environment and Economy. Balanced decision-making was made for the Yukon placer industry by the Yukon Placer Committee under the auspices of the Yukon Placer Authority. The Yukon Placer Committee was established, with participants from government, business and environment to ensure the interests of all sectors.

Balance is no longer in place. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has taken control of the Yukon placer industry with the support of the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and the Salmon Committee. Simply because consideration of other interests is not within their mandates.

These groups are strictly environmental groups. Amongst the people representing them within the Yukon, you will not find a sociologist or an economist of any description.

Local DFO authorities undermined their own agreement within the review committee and advised the DFO Minister not to sign the YPA agreement compiled by the YPA Review Committee and made by consensus representing all parties. Yukon Conservation Society, the Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Legal Defense Fund threatened legal action against the Minister of Fisheries solely because of perceived threats to fish and fish habitat using "no impact" as their guideline. The new Minister of Fisheries made headlines crumbling under this pressure.

The result of this action is that fish and fish habitat, under very little threat from placer mining, become more important than our very existence. Instead our social-economic health is very threatened and balance no longer exists.

Science is another issue.

The science DFO is using to support its claim is from sources other than our local placer areas. Any local studies or data that I have seen to date is contrary to the Fisheries position and has obviously not been given its rightful consideration.

This leaves me with some questions:

Are the people responsible environmental saviors or economic criminals?

In the end, should this course continue, the placer miner, the gentlest of all miners, will become extinct while 70% of the gold reserves remain in the ground. In places like Dawson, business will crumble, jobs will be lost and Social Assistance, alcoholism and family violence will sky-rocket.

And no measurable difference in fish populations will take place.

The budget for DFO will increase substantially in order to enforce its new operating authority.

The Yukon Conservation Society will continue to get its $800,000 plus per year, maybe more, for a job well done. Thank you to the misinformed public in the South who wish to be on the high road.

As for who's next, your guess is as good as mine but rest assured that if YCS and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) wish to continue receiving millions of dollars per year they are going to need a cause. And the Yukon is fertile ground.

As to the last question, I leave you to answer that on your own.

Respectfully submitted,

Ralph A. Nordling

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The Yukon Placer Mining Industry Buyout

A Proposal by Greg Hakonson
President, Eldorado Placers Ltd

A Brief Historic Synopsis

The Rush, 1896-1901

The world famous Klondike Gold Rush began in 1896, it climaxed in 1898-99 with about 40,000 participants and was over by 1901.

Historic accounts of this era give no indication of any negative impact to fish populations and anecdotal accounts indicate an abundance of fish.

The Era of Mechanization, 1901-1967

The period of 1901-67 was the era of mechanization in the Klondike gold fields. Mechanical methods of mining utilizing huge volumes of water saw vast areas washed clean of overburden. Millions upon million of tons of mud was literally washed down the creeks, into the Yukon River and out to the Bering Straight. This era by far saw the largest volumes of materials moved than any era before or after.

Historic accounts of this era give no indication of any negative impact to fish populations and in fact, anecdotal accounts reflect quite the opposite.

Salmon and grayling were being caught in numbers to supply the stampeders.

The Quiet Times, 1967-1971

With world gold prices held in check and increasing operating costs, the Yukon's Placer Mining Industry virtually disappeared from 1967-71. There were very few operations, maybe 20-25. Equipment was small and most miners removed all overburden by washing it down the creeks.

Again, historic accounts give no indication of any negative impact to fish populations and anecdotal accounts reflect quite the opposite.

Trappers and hunters prefer old mined areas due to higher populations of all terrestrial mammals.

Local sports fisher people find an abundance of grayling in dredge ponds and mined creeks.

An informal commercial fishery is operating on the Yukon River and supplies the local area with salmon.

The Second Rush, 1971-1982

In 1971 gold was allowed to trade freely on the world market. Between 1971-1981, gold rose in fits and starts from $35 US to a high of about $800 US. Placer mining activity followed suit. And so did regulations.

Starting in 1973 regulations became a part of "doing business" in the placer mining industry. By 1993 the Industry was operating within the regulations set out in the Yukon Placer Authorization.

Although the "Second Gold Rush" was nowhere near the size or scope of the original Rush and was operating in a much more environmentally friendly manner, historic records and anecdotal accounts reveal some minor decline in salmon populations in the Yukon River.

The informal commercial salmon fishery on the Yukon is still healthy and supplies salmon to locals and the mining camps.

Grayling populations continue to be fished by local sport fisher people with no mention of a decline in their population.

The Contemporary Period, 1982-Present

The period 1982 to present is very interesting. The gold price dropped drastically around 1982, from about $800 US to about $400 US. Placer mining again followed suit and declined. Then in 1997 gold slipped even lower, bottoming out in 2002 at about $250 US. Placer mining continued its collinear trend and declined. In 1980 there were approximately 300 placer mining licences in Yukon, currently there are about 60.

Throughout this period all mining was operating under a very rigid set of regulations designed to protect fish and fish habitat, while allowing placer mining to operate.

A formal commercial Salmon fishery is established with the formation of Han Fishery.

Salmon populations in the Yukon River go from a state of minor decline to the point where commercial fishing is suspended.

Grayling still abound and sports fishing on a local level still continues with no indication or mention of decreased populations.

A Statement of Fact

There is no scientific, historic, or anecdotal evidence to indicate placer mining is detrimental to fish populations.

Salmon population declines do not correlate with historic mining activities.

There is no indication that grayling populations are affected by placer mining activity in any way other than evidence of short term displacements that last only as long as the mining activity and that often doesn't occur. In other words, the grayling often remain in the streams being mined.

Anecdotal evidence shows conclusively placer- mined areas, that have gone fallow, are far more productive with regards to aquatic and terrestrial species than the unmined areas.

To date, the only scientific study done on Placer versus the Environment showed conclusively that the end results from placer mining activity was beneficial for aquatic and terrestrial species.

Summing Up the Situation and Finding a Solution

With absolutely no scientific facts to indicate placer mining causes negative environmental impacts and with undisputable historic accounts, and anecdotal evidence over a period of 100 years to the contrary (and one scientific study), the Yukon Placer Mining Industry is being regulated into history by the Government that once wanted and supported them.

In the face of this embarrassing situation, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (in concert with a number of environmental groups in Canada and the United States of America) representing the Government of Canada, is not hesitating to wield the full strength of the Fisheries Act to shut the Industry down. Make no mistake about the desired end. The goal of the Government of Canada is to see the Historic Yukon Placer Mining Industry gone.

So, with that sobering thought in mind, what is the solution? I believe there are only two options.

Placer miners carry on under more and more stringent regulations, regulations being manipulated by a Government that has a goal of eliminating the industry.

The Government of Canada openly acknowledges their desire to eliminate placer mining, accepts responsibility for their actions and closes the industry down by buying it out.

Why a Buyout Makes Sense and How It Would Work

Why a Buyout Makes Sense

For over thirty years the Yukon Placer Mining Industry has suffered a lack of capital investment caused in a great part by constantly increasing regulations and constantly "moving goal posts".

This lack of capital has gradually worn on the industry and left the majority of Yukon Placer Miners in a situation where they are not financially capable of "retooling" to be able to meet more stringent regulations while retaining profitability.

It is the opinion of Eldorado Placers Ltd., with twenty-nine years in the industry, that the proposal to scrap the YPA and implement a new set of more stringent regulations will be devastating to the industry.

The newly proposed regulations will immediately eliminate the vast majority of narrow valleys presently being mined or held in the mining reserve. A large percentage of operations are located in these narrow valleys, so they will have to relocate to wider valleys or close up shop.

The newly proposed regulations will also result in the necessity to retool, in other words, get equipment that will allow the operator to be profitable while complying to the regulations. As stated earlier, "This lack of capital has gradually worn on the industry and left the majority of Yukon Placer Miners in a situation where they are not financially capable of "retooling" to be able to meet more stringent regulations while retaining profitability". So, the new changes will force miners that find themselves in this situation out of business.

A lot of the equipment utilized for placer mining is industry specific. It has no value if not being used for that activity. That means by scrapping the YPA and implementing the newly proposed regulations a significant portion of Yukon Placer Miners assets are instantly rendered valueless.

Since the industry has gone through a long drawn out period of inability to get major capital funding, a vast majority of the non- industry specific equipment is quite old. The maximum value of this equipment can only be achieved by selling it as part of a "going concern" operation. As many of the operations will certainly not be a going concerns because of the YPA cancellation and the new regulations, their equipment will only be worth a small fraction of it's former value, perhaps 25% or less.

There is also the situation with placer reserves. Under a different set of rules and regulations, the Placer Mining Industry invested a substantial amount of money in prospecting, acquiring and developing its placer reserves. A lot of these reserves have also been instantly rendered valueless by the cancellation of the YPA and proposal of new and more stringent regulations.

So, with thirty years of continually increasing pressure and one final decisive blow, the Government of Canada is bringing a close to the Historic Yukon Placer Mining Industry and causing the financial ruin of many of the industries participants.

That said, I don't believe the Government wants to cause the financial ruin of the companies and individuals involved in the industry, but if they proceed with the cancellation of the YPA and the planned new regulations without compensating those adversely affected by the changes, that will be the end result.

The Government of Canada and its partners in this action are concerned with protection of the environment, a worthy endeavor and one that all Canadians should be concerned about. By far, the vast majority of Yukon Placer Miners are concerned about the environment as well.

The issue for Placer Miners is not whether or not they want to protect the environment, they do, it's simply that they cannot afford to make the necessary changes. There are a number of operators that would prefer to get out of the business but know they will realize very little for their investments. There are others who prefer to carry on regardless. A buyout needs to address three issues, protection of the environment, the miners that want out and the miners that don't.

How the Buyout Would Work

An industry buyout has to be on an individual basis. Some operators will want to sell, some won't, some will agree on a reasonable settlement, others won't. The buyout will have to allow individual operators to "opt in" or "opt out" based on "the deal".

For operators that choose to opt in, Government would buy their equipment and claims. The claims would revert back to the Crown, becoming "open ground" and in effect being available for re-staking. This appears to make no sense at first glance but providing the goal of Government is to protect the environment and address a wrong while not eliminating all placer mining activity, it is the only thing that makes sense.

Claims purchased for the Crown would be held for the individual operators (whose claims they were) for a set period of time (one or two years perhaps), thus allowing the operators an opportunity to "purchase" claims back (at the same per claim price) if they feel they could operate profitably within the new regulations and chose to get back in the game.

The miners that want to get back in the game will now have the capital to reinvest in the appropriate equipment required to meet the repositioned goal posts. It will be a fresh start, a level playing field with a set of rules and regulations clearly defined prior to the start of the game.

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