Lesson: Be Consistent… and Push Like Your Life Depends on It!
I feel a bit like the opening line in Out of Africa… “I once had a farm in Africa…”, why did she have a farm? Why doesn’t she have one anymore? Where did she have a farm? What happened…? Maybe I should read on. So why did I have a bridge in the Yukon? Why was it a gold bridge? Where is this bridge and why is it past tense?
So, now for the real story; I was running a mineral exploration project with a beautiful outcrop of gold. If you are unfamiliar with gold projects, it is EXTREMELY unusual to ever see gold. The gold is often engrained in the quartz and not visible to the naked eye. If you are very fortunate, you will see grains of gold or veins of gold at maybe one project you ever work on. But to witness gold in such quantity that you can spot it from feet away, you are in a tiny, tiny minority. At this project, we were in that tiny, tiny minority. It was heaven.
The gold outcrop was enhanced when further down the mountain we found more gold and equally as visible. And so, as it goes with projects and developments, we needed to move from helicopter access to road access to be able to work efficiently and effectively. And we needed to cross a river first, so we had to build a bridge.
If you have ever tried to permit an exploration project, mining project, road construction or a bridge, you know it takes a long time. As I write, I sit and wonder how long it will take to rebuild the bridge in Philidelphia and how fast you can make something happen when there is a will to proceed.
But, that project in that year (2016), I (or should I say “we”) permitted and constructed a bridge in 4 months. And we had to, or else we were going to lose a whole season; delays like that are not received well by investors. So, it wasn’t an overpass on I-95, it was a single span bridge; it had to go through assessment, the Water Board, and get signed off by overlapping First Nation governments. And I had to push.
And I pushed and pushed and pushed. I could finally see the finish line of my permitting hurdles. One last hurdle: 2 overlapping First Nations, both of the Kaska Nation, had to sign off. A well-intended public government bureaucrat told me if I could get both nations to sign off in 24 hours (usually takes months, if not years) he would place the item on the Water Board agenda for review and approval.
With letters in hand, the Water Board approved the bridge, and we were golden. Both Chiefs graciously helped that day and asked for nothing in return. Instead, it was the beginning of a great working relationship on that project; one that resulted in gold coins featuring their artists and a nationally-recognized Elders-in-Residence program.
The Yukon Minister of Mines office called me after all this and asked me how I managed to accomplish the task, given the Kaska Nation would not even return calls from his office. I said it was simple: when you are 26, start working in Kaska Country, and 30 years later tell me how it’s going.