Highway lodges on endangered list

Bear Creek Lodge has been forced to close, leaving its owners destitute. “We may have to declare bankruptcy,” said 71-year-old Gail…

Bear Creek Lodge has been forced to close, leaving its owners destitute.

“We may have to declare bankruptcy,” said 71-year-old Gail Jeeves on Monday.

The Yukon government required the Haines Junction lodge to complete a $20,000 septic-system upgrade.

The elderly couple couldn’t afford it.

“We asked if that amount could be stretched over the years and added to our taxes,” said Jeeves.

“But they wanted the $20,000 immediately.”

Jeeves didn’t have the money.

“It’s not that we were refusing to pay it,” she said.

“We just can’t pay it right now. And they certainly could have made it easier for us.”

Business was bad this summer, she added. One day, the lodge sold just one bowl of ice cream, worth $1.50.

The rubber tire traffic just wasn’t there this year, and Bear Creek isn’t the only lodge in the Junction feeling the pinch, said Jeeves.

“It seems traffic is just going from one major centre to the next, and not stopping in between.”

Jeeves and her husband ran the lodge, 10 kilometres outside Haines Junction, for more than 30 years.

And the full restaurant, bar, RV Park, 12 rooms, conference space that seats 50, and horse corral used to be busy, she said.

In their heyday, the Jeeves would winter in Arizona, or on Vancouver Island.

But this year, they were getting on the bus and heading to their daughter’s home in Prince George.

“We couldn’t even afford to fly,” said Jeeves, the day before they left.

They’re planning to spend the winter in their daughter’s basement suite.

“Thank God for family right now,” said Jeeves, who is too upset to start thinking about the future.

“We have nothing, no plans, and we had to leave while we still have our sanity,” she said, noting that her 76-year-old husband is struggling with Alzheimer’s.

“So it’s all on me, and it’s taking its toll,” she said.

Ten years ago, the Jeeves sold Bear Creek Lodge, and bought a home on Vancouver Island.

But the new owners quit paying the mortgage and trashed the place, said Jeeves.

“We had to sell our house and come back.

“You must wonder why we haven’t got more money, but we put our house and everything into this place, and that was the end of our nest egg.”

Several weeks ago, the government took Jeeves to court, citing non-compliance of a health order.

“The Judge asked us why we hadn’t completed the work, and I told him we just didn’t have the money,” said Jeeves, her voice shaking.

The Crown asked that Jeeves be fined, but the judge didn’t feel that was necessary.

“He was very nice,” said Jeeves, who found the whole procedure terribly stressful.

“It’s a real shame when you see people who are on in years, and this is their retirement nest egg, and they’re having to close their doors and maybe go into bankruptcy,” said Kluane MLA Gary McRobb.

“They sank everything they owned into keeping these things going, and the government’s own regulations have brought on these costs — that’s hurt that should be put on this government.”

And it should help balance out the cost, he said.

 “The government knew about the problem, had the means to do something about it, and decided to do nothing.”

To ease the cost of drilling a well, or bringing in power and telephone, the government established the well program and the rural electrical telecommunications program, allowing Yukoners to repay these sizeable costs gradually on their taxes.

“And the territorial government could have eased the up-front burden of the high costs required for septic and sewer upgrades, or new infrastructure, by modifying existing loan programs that are repaid with low interest on annual property tax payments,” said McRobb.

Last session, the government debated the possibility of expanding these programs to include septic costs, he said.

“Minister Glenn Hart said he’d look into it, and that things would improve, but it seems to have been an election ploy.

“The Yukon Party rejected it, and now they’ve clamped down.

“But it could be a saving grace for those highway lodges and the people who depend on them now, and in the future.”

Three lodges in McRobb’s riding have closed because of the cost of septic upgrades, he said.

Kluane Wilderness Village closed after an extensive $80,000 septic system improvement; Koidern River Lodge is having septic issues and can’t afford to do anything about it, and Bear Creek has closed, he said.

“This has repercussions on the community, the amount of rooms available, the ability of Haines Junction to attract events and conventions, and moreover the safety of highway travelers,” said McRobb.

“Think about winter travel, when you’re having mechanical problems or bad weather conditions, these highway lodges were a godsend to many travellers over the years.

“These operators have worked diligently on the frontline of our tourism industry for decades, and they deserve a medal for all they’ve done to help our tourism industry — they don’t deserve to be driven into bankruptcy by their own government.”