Boaters are expressing worry and “shock” after learning the public boat launch at Giant Mine and neighbouring Great Slave Sailing Club may be inaccessible over much of the next decade as Giant Mine enters the next phase in cleanup.
The two-lane boat launch is generally more favoured by boaters than the launch in Old Town, which only has one lane and far more limited parking for vehicles and trailers. But even the Giant Mine boat launch parking lot frequently fills to capacity, especially on weekends.
The sailing club, meanwhile, is one of only two mooring sites for sailboats in the city. And while there might be plenty of shoreline in Yellowknife, most of it is on private property or otherwise inaccessible, too shallow or exposed to wind.
Last week, Natalie Plato, deputy director of the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team, admitted the boat launch and sailing club will likely be off-limits by 2023 as clean up crews turn their attention to the old mine town site and dredging Back Bay for arsenic.
The project team is awaiting approval of its Type A water licence from the Mackenzie Land and Water Board.
Joey Sutton, the new owner of Polar Tech — the largest retailer of recreational vehicles in the city – said there has been “an explosion” of recreational boat sales over the past five years. He estimates about 400 sold in Yellowknife between him and his competition during that time. He said his shop services about 1,000 boats per year.
News about the impending closure of the boat launch came as a shock, he said, which adds to the continuing economic uncertainty in the community.
“It was a big shock and it shouldn’t have been,” said Sutton. “Along with the negative news with it closing, there should have been news of a temporary solution.
“Just the doom and gloom is killing me and is killing my business.”
Sutton said a closure at Giant Mine would leave few options for accessing Great Slave Lake. The only other public options are the launch in Old Town and the Yellowknife River day-use area – both of which are small and congested with other activities.
“The solution of the Old Town boat launch is not a solution at all,” he said. “It is basically just single lane and it is not going to just effect the boaters but the Old Town core because the 125 vehicles that are seen at the Giant dock (per day) in June, July and August will be on street sides and sidewalks near the dock.”
Greg Robertson, owner of Bluefish Services, agreed that closing the Giant dock would lead to problems in Old Town.
“It would be a nightmare at the other one,” he said of the Old Town public boat launch.
“I don’t know what other spots there might be because there is already limited access and it is a nightmare at the best of times.”
He said there could be an option with the Con Mine boat launch if the city can get access from owner Newmont Mining Corporation, or perhaps the city could building docks extending from the shallows near Rotary Park.
“They will have to come up with something because I don’t know where else to do it,” he said.
Councillor not worried
Yellowknifer reached out to all city councillors on Wednesday to hear what they know if they had any ideas. Only Couns. Niels Konge, Julian Morse, Rommel Silverio, and Robin Williams could be reached by press time.
Konge said he hasn’t heard much aside from Yellowknifer’s initial report in the Jan. 4 edition (“Giant Mine boat launch could be shut down”). He said he is not too concerned at this point given that there are other possible locations that the city could look at over the next four years.
“My understanding is that (closing the dock) was one of a few possible scenarios,” Konge said, adding that he would like to hear more information from the project team on what options there might be as it enters the next phase of remediation.
“If it is only one of a few possible scenarios, I don’t think it is something I am going to spend being concerned about at this point.
“As they talk about what scenarios they are going to take, we can see if it becomes (a problem). If it is one, then we will have to figure out how we are going to deal with that.”
Morse, who is a regulatory officer with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, declined to comment, citing the board’s involvement with the remediation team’s water licence application.
Silverio said he didn’t know enough about the issue to comment but would like to hear a presentation to council from the project team so he could be better informed.
Williams said he wanted to look into the issue but was unable to provide further comment by press time.
City staff confirmed access at Giant Mine will be an issue once cleanup begins on the shoreline.
“Yes,” wrote Kerry Penney, director policy, communications and economic development, when asked by email if the city is expecting to face problems with access to the sailing club and public boat launch when the next phase of remediation begins.
Asked if the Yellowknife Historical Society’s plans for a mining museum in the area will be similarly affected, Penney also answered, “Yes.”
Mayor to look at Con Mine launch, other options
Mayor Rebecca Alty says a public boat launch at the Con Mine dock is an idea that she has heard frequently and something she intends to explore with owner Newmont Mining.
The mayor said she is expecting to go on a tour of Con Mine on Friday for an update on the remediation project taking place there. She said after the tour she hopes to have a better sense of the feasibility of a dock option there.
When asked if four years sounds like too a short time to identify options, Alty said it would depend on how well the territorial government, federal government and the city are able to work together to find a solution.
She said the remediation team is scheduled to attend a city council meeting on Jan. 21.
“To date, a lot of discussion has been between the project team and administration and then updates have been provided to council,” Alty said, adding updates on Giant Mine come about twice a year. The last time the project team was at council was in March.
“A lot of it will depend on if the project team gets a water licence and when that gets approved and scheduled and then when Giant Mine dock will be impacted.,” said Alty.
“It is good that discussions are happening now and that we’re working on a solution so that when it comes time to close the boat launch hopefully there will be an alternate solution there.
“We are still working through the different options because a lot of the waterfront property would be with the GNWT or federal government,” she said. “We are hoping to work with those two entities to find an alternate solution to clean up the Giant dock.”