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WHITEHORSE, Yukon - Business leaders in Dawson City are predicting devastation of the local economy and departure of half the population if new regulations for the placer gold mining industry are allowed to stand.
Miners and others have predicted that more than half of the placer operations in the Yukon will be unable to meet the new standards intended to protect fish and habitat.
The chamber says the Dawson City population could shrink by 50 per cent in seven years as the impact of the new regulations proposed by federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault ripples through the community.
The chamber has also called upon Dawson businesses to support "black Wednesday" by closing their doors today, March 12, to show what the future could be like.
Thibault announced Dec. 16 that the government would phase in the new rules over several years to bring the Yukon in line with rules in the rest of the nation. The first group of operations were to come under the new system next year.
The tougher regulations have been applauded by conservation groups, including the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
Tara Christie, president of the Klondike Placer Miners Association, met with Thibault in Ottawa this week. She said the minister indicated he was not necessarily tied to the four-year period he outlined earlier for imposing the new rules.
The chamber cites a study by the local mine inspection office suggesting more than 50 per cent of the Yukon's placer mines will not be able to meet new the new standards.
The chamber fears that would send the Klondike economy into a slide, beginning with a glut of used heavy equipment suddenly flooding the market and driving down prices. House values in Dawson would drop with a declining population and a surplus supply of housing, under that scenario.
Chamber president Jorn Meier said the feeling of doom was very real in the Klondike region, which has 78 of the 115 placer mines that operated in the territory last year.
"The majority are scared," said Meier of the businesses and the community at large. "Some of them would like to take to a witch hunt, and a small few are saying it will not be that bad."