Keno City’s existential crisis

It seems a stretch to still call Keno a city, when it only has about 25 inhabitants, but the Yukon government won't even acknowledge the community exists, in a manner of speaking.

It seems a stretch to still call Keno a city, when it only has about 25 inhabitants, but the Yukon government won’t even acknowledge the community exists, in a manner of speaking.

The territory recently rejected the community’s bid to form a local advisory council, which would have given residents official representation in matters such as changes to zoning bylaws and land-use plans.

“They don’t need to deal with us, because we don’t exist,” said resident Bob Wagner.

“We wish they would have the guts to tell us that we don’t matter.”

The financial reporting and other paperwork that come with running a council may be beyond the capability of Keno’s residents, Community Services Minister Archie Lang explained in his rejection letter, dated May 8.

Residents scoff in response. They already run two non-profits in town, and they’ve never had trouble reporting for these organizations.

Besides, Lang sent them down this road, they say.

When resident James Milley asked Lang about road improvements to the Silver Trail Highway, he said he was told, “If you think I will call every person in Keno City to get a road report, you are crazy. Until you have an advisory council in place up there I don’t even want to hear from you.”

Lang’s letter suggests that Keno residents start up a nonprofit society, instead.

They already have one. The Keno Community Club currently represents residents, but it lacks the formal recognition of advisory councils, which are created through the Municipal Act.

Past attempts to talk about proposed zoning bylaws through the club “went nowhere,” said resident Bob Wagner.

Keno’s fight to gain official recognition as a community dates back at least a decade, to the governments of Pat Duncan and Piers McDonald, said Wagner.

“For one reason or another, it’s gone nowhere.”

Most of Keno’s residents loudly opposed Alexco Resource Corporation’s plans to reactivate the Bellekeno underground silver mine, which would place a mill just one kilometre outside town. The project received the green light from regulators last month and is awaiting the territory’s approval.

While residents continue to fear that the mill’s proximity to town will kill the community’s tourism-oriented businesses, they also have their eyes on future regulatory wrangling over another project overseen by Alexco, to cleanup abandoned mine sites in the surrounding area.

A closure plan is expected to enter Yukon’s regulatory regime in spring of 2010, said Wagner.

Residents felt their concerns were ignored during Bellekeno consultations. They want assurances the clean-up talks are done differently.

There will be at least one important difference between how the Bellekeno and clean-up reviews are handled: the closure plan will be reviewed by the executive committee of the Yukon Environment and Socio-economic Assessment Board, while the mine proposal was handled by the regulator’s Mayo office.

It’s unclear whether an advisory council would give the community any more clout during the regulatory review. But it certainly couldn’t hurt, say residents.

“As long as we’re without governance here, anything that happens here is without our control. We have virtually no say at all,” said Milley.

Elsewhere in the Yukon, small communities have at times had difficulty sustaining interest in advisory councils. Deep Creek once had a council, but during the 2006 municipal elections not one resident decided to run.

The Association of Yukon Communities currently lists five advisory councils on its website: Ibex Valley, Mount Lorne, Marsh Lake, South Klondike and Tagish.

Community services officials didn’t bother to return calls to the News before deadline. Neither did Lang.

Contact John Thompson at