Keno residents want out

A group of Keno residents has petitioned the government to help them move out of the community and restart their lives somewhere else. New mines and industrial development have surrounded the town.

A group of Keno residents has petitioned the government to help them move out of the community and restart their lives somewhere else.

New mines and industrial development have surrounded the town, threatening tourism businesses and the health and safety of residents, the petition alleges.

Bob Wagner and his wife, Insa Schultenkotter, moved away to Atlin earlier this year.

Schultenkotter closed the cabin and artist studio rental businesses she had run for about 15 years.

She was able to sell one property below assessed value, but the couple holds little hope to sell the remainder of their assets in Keno, said Wagner.

They hope the government will give them a fair price for the remaining properties, but feel their chances are slim.

“We don’t really expect anything will come out of anything that we do,” said Wagner. “Our experience is that Keno does not matter, that the people in Keno do not matter to the agendas that are out there right now.”

Nine residents signed the petition, spearheaded by Jim Milley, who runs the Sourdough Cafe.

Wagner lived in Keno for 40 years.

“We recognize that the area is a historic mining area. We’re not idiots,” he said.

Even before, when United Keno Hill was mining in the area, Keno was a tranquil place, said Wagner.

Industrial activity was centred around nearby Elsa, and the extent of the effect on the community of Keno was a few dump trucks rolling through town every day.

When the mine shut down in 1989, residents were encouraged by the government to stay and to develop a local tourism economy, he said.

But with industry moving in, the area is no longer attractive to tourists, and residents want out.

Now, there’s a mill within 300 metres of homes, according to the petition.

Haul roads surround the community, and they are both inaccessible for outdoor recreation and potentially dangerous, said Wagner.

A recent health study found no evidence that the community’s water or air is contaminated, but it also said not enough data exists to rule out the possibility of risk.

Wagner is legally obligated to inform potential buyers that the groundwater under his property could be contaminated, he said.

If if is possible to sell at all, it would have to be for a very reduced price.

And it’s all because the government and industry have teamed up to push forward with the industrialization of the area, said Wagner.

“That’s fine,” he said. “But what do you do with the people who don’t fit in?”

It isn’t some horrendous problem, said Wagner. It’s just a matter of a few residents who are going to move out, one way or another, and believe that it’s only right for the government to help accommodate them.

“We’ve been told that this is a balanced process and it will deal with us fairly, but our experience is that it doesn’t and it won’t deal with us fairly.”

Wagner estimates that there are about 20 permanent residents of Keno.

Not everyone wants to move out.

Mike Mancini has seen his business triple over the last few years at the Keno Snack Bar.

“I’ve lived here most of my life and I’m quite content. I’d like to keep living here, and hopefully it’ll continue to prosper one way or another.”

The government is required to respond to the petition on or before Dec. 10.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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