Klondike Sun ~ February 11, 2009
Peel Watershed Land Use Plan is On Track: Open House well Attended
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Story and photos by Josée Bonhomme
An Open House was held in Dawson at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre on February 3. Some 45 people attended or took part in the discussion during the 9 am to 4 pm workshop-type informal but informative meeting. Good opportunities were available for questions and answers on all subjects related to land use planning.
The planning process has now reached the Scenarios Options stage in preparation of a recommended draft . The Peel Watershed Planning Commission is basing its work on information gathered since the beginning of the process in 2005. “We’ve checked the input, done our homework, and now we move forward to the recommendations stage” says Dave Loeks, one of six Commission members.
The information includes technical data as well as interested parties’ contributions at open houses, meetings and by correspondence. Traditional and local knowledge are important aspects of the required information to achieve a proper plan.
The material is voluminous and eclectic, and offers a rare collection of detailed mapped information through the use of geographic information systems. The information is stored on computers in huge databases connected to maps, with all data being georeferenced.
With good base maps provided by the Federal government and satellite imagery, mapping the interests and land attributes or wildlife habitat becomes much easier, or at least more pleasurable. The central meeting room at the cultural centre had tabloidand poster-sized maps all around it, as can be seen in the photos.
The plan is a guide or a preferred direction for land management that is in place for seven years until its first review. It is a flexible and manageable document, not a static concept. Its perspective may be 100 years into the future for some.
In talking about his work, Mr. Reg Whiten, P.Ag., MCIP, Senior Planner, PWPC, the head planner for this large 67,000 square km region, where all waters drain into the Peel River, says, “the capacity of people in the Yukon to come together and discuss all the various interests and concerns for such a special area with high values for so many is commendable, public involvement is the cornerstone to effective planning.”
Whiten worked in Alberta and B.C. in land use management and community development, and also with aboriginal groups. A graduate of Guelph University in Resource Management and Agriculture, he holds a Masters of Environmental Design from the University of Calgary with specialization in Urban and Regional Planning as well as training in adult education from Vancouver Community College.
And that’s what it takes to get this train moving and arriving at destination along the land use planning railroad. In explaining how the Yukon stands out for its spirit of cooperation, “There is far wider polarization in more densely populated areas in other parts of the country due to increasing cumulative impacts affecting traditional rights for example. Here, a smaller population and less intense land-use patterns make it possible to consider more options into the future”.
“In this process, the Commission has developed scenarios or floating alternatives. We look at long-term interests, and the plans are meant as a tool to continue to engage the population in the planning process. The plan has to fit the values established at stakeholders’ meetings, and what goes on in the communities. In Whitehorse, in the fall, our meetings there were very appreciated, and provided clarification and certainty.”
Dave Loeks, Commission Member of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, adds “We have a good relationship of trust with First Nations. At first there was an icy silence, and a long gap in time occurred when the Commission was slowed down. Now with public involvement, and a good discussion forum with the political will to move forward, everyone has come forth in confidence. Everyone is more confident and engaged, research in the area has increased, and we are filling in the gaps in knowledge.”
“Now we have good information about the region, and the factors affecting that region and regional development planning. Do you build infrastructure first and hope they come, or do you build slowly from the ground up? Some questions arise, is this industry operating with the best technologies, does it need to be there?”
“As a planning commission, we can’t show bias, we look at the broader land units, we look at the big picture of opportunities management. We’ve found common themes are repeated from one community to another. Major themes like access and compatibility of land uses”, says Loeks.
The public and interested parties can submit information into the process until February 28, when the Commission then compiles all the material received. The more interests are defined and known or understood, the more the plan will be strong and useful.
The next stage of the plan, the draft plan with its recommendations, is to be presented in late April. It will provide a baseline, an analysis of the information, articulate a strategy and recommendations. It will identify research and policy gaps. It will affect YESAB decisions, all government levels, First Nations and Yukon residents in general.
Loeks adds, “Precisely because some information is lacking, all the more reason to write a conservative plan. We haven’t slammed any doors shut.”
The Draft plan will be subject to a 90-day review, to be completed by late June. At this stage, it will be important to engage all stakeholders and First Nations again. The process so far has cost $1.4 million since 2004, with half to two-thirds spent on information gathering.
To get more information on the Peel River Watershed Land Use Plan, go to www.peel.planyukon. ca. The Commission’s office is co-located with the Yukon Land Use Planning Council at 307 Jarvis Street in Whitehorse. Telephone: (867) 667-2374.
Download full online edition: (pdf – 4.47 MB)