Rock the River Update - July 29, 1998

By John McHutchion, Whitehorse Star

A whitewater paddling playground proposed for the Yukon River is being scaled back amid concerns over salmon habitat.

When it was first proposed late last year, the park was supposed to cover about 150 metres of the river just downstream from the popular paddling site at the old city intake.

The playground was to originally envision feature rock piles and shore spurs to create a series of eddies, waves and holes.

However, concerns that the changes to the topography of the river could affect the habitat of salmon that travel upstream to their spawning grounds mean only one prototype test spur would be built if the project wins approval.

Bob Daffe, a member of the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club, said the project has had to go through several federal government departments. They include DIAND’s land use branch, the territorial water board, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and even the Coast Guard.

In an interview Wednesday, Daffe said the concerns about fish habitat are valid, but he expressed frustration that the numerous bureaucratic hoops means the project may not go ahead until next spring.

The test spur being proposed would be a three-metre bar jutting from the bank of the river. Two large boulders would be dropped into the river and held in place by the addition of smaller rocks. Daffe said the aim is to create a “playhole” accessible to whitewater kayakers and canoeists in Whitehorse.

“The (whitewater) rodeos are really popular and a play hole right in Whitehorse would be really helpful,” he said.

The proposed spur is just upstream from several salmon channels that were constructed in the Yukon River last year to compensate for the lost of habitat with the 1997 reconstruction of Robert Service Way.

Gail Faulkner, chief of the habitat and enhancement branch of DFO, said the department has given its approval for the test spur, but it wants to know how the rocks might affect the salmon.

Daffe said the club is hiring a firm for two years to study the spur’s possible impact on salmon travelling upstream.

Judi Doering, manager of the Yukon Territory Water Board, said it’s waiting for the Coast Guard to issue a navigable waters permit for the project. Once that happens, the water board will be able to issue a decision on whether the club can go ahead.

Jim Naylor, a navigable waters protection officer with the Coast Guard in Vancouver, said Wednesday the club has to advertise its proposed changes to the river in two local newspapers and the Canada Gazette.

“All we’re really looking for is to ensure the public has had a chance to speak to it,” Naylor said.

If the Coast Guard doesn’t hear any public concerns about safety or navigation, it will grant approval for the project.

Naylor calls it unfortunate that the project may not go ahead until after the short Yukon paddling season is almost over, but he said the department is constrained by its requirements that all proposed changes to rivers must be advertised.

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