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Whitepoint flashpoint

Tourism company's plans for Great Slave Lake lodge caught in boundary dispute, and now faces challenge from Ecology North

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 17/02) - A tourism operator hoping to build a lodge at Whitebeach Point says his proposal is falling victim to the border conflict between aboriginal groups.

Gary Jaeb, president of True North Safaris, wants to build a main lodge and cabins to sleep up to 40 guests on a point on the western shore Great Slave Lake's North Arm.

Jaeb said the facility would be used primarily for winter tourism, with some summer fishing and eco-tourism.

The project requires changing the land use designation from seasonal recreation to commercial tourism.

In February the Yellowknives Dene council passed a resolution opposing the proposal, based mainly on concerns about the project's impact on woodland caribou that use the area. Dogrib Treaty 11 is supporting the proposal, as is the North Slave Metis Alliance.

Dogrib Treaty 11 and Akaitcho Treaty 8, which the Yellowknives are part of, have been engaged in a protracted dispute over the eastern boundary of the Dogrib land claim. The NSMA have taken their concerns about the Dogrib claim to court.

"We're just a pawn in some political battle over this overlap," said Jaeb, who also operates lodges on Mackay Lake.

He said the tourism operation he is proposing would not include hunting and would therefore have no impact on woodland caribou in the area. Jaeb has held a tourism licence for the Whitebeach Point area since 1991. The Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development has agreed in principle to the project.

In a response to a call for input from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Ecology North is objecting to the development.

Bob Bromley, a member of the environmental group, said the area is extremely rich in wildlife, with an unusually large black bear population attracted by an abundance of berries.

Over hundreds of years, a thick layer of lichen has built up on the sand on the point.

Jaeb said the environmental impact of the project is minuscule beside the impacts of other developments in the area.

"Why on earth would an organization like Ecology North oppose a tourism business and not have concerns about the gravel pit and these fish camps," Jaeb said.

He said a large gravel pit has existed inland from the point for years and there are commercial fishing camps in the area.

Jaeb said public meetings were held on the project in Dettah and Ndilo late last year.

A DIAND official working on the file said it is difficult to tell how long it will take to come to a decision on the proposed land use change.

"If we don't get any (objections), it's fair to say we could be making a decision pretty darn quickly," said Brenda Becker, acting manager of land administration.

Becker added that she has received indications that some objections will be filed.