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Government balks at razing outfitter lodge

Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie refused to order the destruction of an illegal outfitter camp built on the Bonnet Plume River.

Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie refused to order the destruction of an illegal outfitter camp built on the Bonnet Plume River.

In the summer of 2005, Bonnet Plume Outfitters built a lodge and several cabins adjacent to the Bonnet Plume River — a Canadian Heritage River — roughly 160 kilometres northeast of Mayo.

The camp was built without consent from the Yukon government or the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun.

“How long did the government know that these buildings were there?” said Eric Fairclough, Liberal MLA for Mayo-Tatchun.

“When was the minister first made aware of this situation?” Fairclough said during Question Period Wednesday. “Who was made aware, and when was it decided to do something?”

If they were built outside the law, the presence of such structures is unacceptable.

He would not commit to remove them.

The government “has asked the outfitter in question to provide evidence that they have legal standing on this particular site,” said Fentie, who answered on behalf of Resources minister Archie Lang, because Lang owns an outfitting concession and has routinely abstained from discussing outfitting issues.

“Otherwise, they are to cease operation or occupation immediately,” said Fentie.

“These things have been done, and this is all about due process.”

In 2005, the Yukon Party government razed a squatter’s cabin in the Mayo region once it was determined it had been built illegally on Crown Land.

The government can remove the Bonnet Plume structures if it wanted to, said Fairclough.

“A reasonable person would assume that, when the department of Energy, Mines and Resources became aware of the illegal construction of these buildings, they would have contacted the outfitter and simply asked them to remove them.”

The dispute raises questions about a controversial policy enacted in October 2005 that gives professional outfitters the right to apply for exclusive tenure on remote and satellite camps around the territory.

Bonnet Plume Outfitters, based in Alberta, has not applied for tenure on the site in question under the 2005 policy.

The company has no legal right to occupy the campsite or to build the structures, according to statements from the government lands branch.

“We would have to consider this to be an unauthorized occupancy situation and would, in all likelihood, look to the operator to remove the structure,” lands branch director Lyle Henderson told CBC Radio.

The Na-Cho Nyak Dun discovered the camp through a guide working with Bonnet Plume.

“Inadvertently, we found out about it in a roundabout way,” said chief Simon Mervyn.

“The proper values in regard to consultation with (Yukon government) and the permitting process have not been properly adhered to,” Mervyn said Thursday.

“It’s built right alongside a designated heritage river, and we understood that designation speaks to pristine values.

“Now you come by and there’s a big fancy lodge there with a tin, glaring roof and a bunch of outbuildings — it’s just not right. It does not comply with our anticipated values of the land.

“We want to see that lodge removed.”

The outfitting company also allegedly salvaged material to build the cabins from wooden trays it found at the site that contained mineral samples, according to Fronteer Development Group Inc., a Vancouver-based mining company that bought a mineral claim at the campsite in 2005.

The previous mineral claim owner left the core samples organized in orderly rows before the outfitting company arrived at the site, said company vice-president Rick Valenta.

“Almost all the core had been dumped on the ground,” said Valenta Thursday.

“There’s no way we’re going to get them back.”

The drill program that produced the core samples cost $6 million, but the samples are essentially useless, he said.

“We have a mineral claim on the property that says we are allowed to store core samples there.

“The outfitter could have abided by the rules with regards to the cabins, but that does not give them licence to go in and destroy mineral samples.”

Fronteer has not launched a civil action lawsuit against Bonnet Plume yet, but the mining company is considering its options and waiting to see what the government decides to do, said Valenta.

Sharron McKinnon, a proprietor of Bonnet Plume Outfitters, declined comment and deferred to her husband, Chris McKinnon, who did not reply before deadline.