Kelly Benson, right, and his mining parter Joe Volf claim that Victoria Gold crews working to get the Eagle mine online widened a road over Benson’s placer claims west of Elsa without consulting him. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Mayo-area placer miners, Victoria Gold in dispute over road work

Kelly Benson and Joe Volf say Victoria Gold widened a road on their claims without consulting them

Two Mayo-area placer miners say that crews from Victoria Gold Corp., in the push to get the Eagle Gold mine online, widened a road and installed power poles on their claims without notifying them, impeding the pair’s ability to mine promising “virgin ground.”

Victoria Gold’s CEO, though, says that the road wasn’t actually widened and that the two are just trying to use the situation to get undue financial compensation.

In an interview Oct. 18, Keno residents and mining partners Kelly Benson and Joe Volf said they were caught off-guard this summer when a friend told them Victoria Gold crews were working on a portion of the South McQuesten Road, which branches off the Silver Trail west of Elsa, that crosses over Benson’s claims.

Benson has held three claims along the road since the late ‘90s — one above the road, one on the road and one just off of it.

Both he and Volf said that the road used to be about 15 to 20 feet across, but now, it’s been widened to about 30 feet. The new width, they said, combined with the installation of power poles along the road and the riprap used to bury it, have effectively stopped them from being able to mine Benson’s claims.

“They never gave me no letter of intent or anything … They never even talked to me at all, just went ahead and did all the work,” Benson said, adding that he also found, after visiting the site, that some of his test pits had been filled in and piles of boulders and dirt around his property.

Both Volf and Benson said that their attempts to contact Victoria Gold about the situation as well as the Yukon government have been unfruitful.

“(Victoria Gold) just said, ‘We have all the permits in place and we don’t have to do nothing.’ Well, obviously you have to do something because you’ve stalled me from mining on my ground,” Benson said, adding that he wants to be compensated.

“That was my retirement, you know? I’ve had that ground for a long time. There’s definitely gold there … I’m not going to give up. I’ll get a lawyer if I need to, take them to court. I don’t want it to go that far, I just want them to acknowledge my right, that’s all I want.”

The Klondike Placer Miners’ Association is watching the situation closely, executive director Jonas Smith said in an interview Oct. 22.

“There’s a lot of concern and outstanding questions regarding the Goldcorp project just because the northern access route goes through the heart of placer territory, and so the situation that Mr. Volf and Benson find themselves in is front-of-mind for many placer miners in the Klondike,” Smith said, referring to Goldcorp’s Coffee mine south of Dawson City.

However, in an interview Oct. 22, Victoria Gold’s CEO John McConnell said that his company didn’t widen the portion of the road that runs through Benson’s claims — it just put better surfacing on it and replaced a culvert so it doesn’t get washed out in the spring.

McConnell also said that Victoria Gold notified Benson about the work and has “tried to communicate” with him “many times” about his complaints.

“We have sent him notes and emails suggesting, you know, if he would like some help, we would give him a hand. But all he keeps asking for is money,” McConnell said.

“I mean, all he keeps (saying) in his communication is, ‘I’d like $50,000 and $10,000 per year.’”

Victoria Gold has been working on its Eagle mine since 2009, McConnell added, and Benson and Volf hadn’t raised any concerns until this summer.

“My family has been placer mining in the Yukon for the past 30 years, so, you know, if there’s anybody that has sympathy towards placer miners, it’s myself,” he said. “…I want to make sure everybody can work and work together but this individual suggests nobody has tried to contact him, he wasn’t aware a mine was going to be built — I mean, he must live in a vacuum, and all of a sudden, now that we’re in construction, he appears out of the blue and demands payment.”

While the company is “happy” to meet and work with Benson and Volf, McConnell said it will not be paying them out.

In a series of phone calls and emails this week, Sue Thomas, a spokesperson for the Yukon government’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, confirmed that Victoria Gold has all the appropriate permits in place for its work, and had received permission from the Department of Highways and Public Works to work on the South McQuesten Road.

She also confirmed that her department had received a complaint from Benson in early August about the road work being done on and near his claims and sent inspectors to the site, who found nothing that broke any rules or regulations.

In a follow-up interview, Volf disputed McConnell’s claim that Victoria Gold hadn’t widened the road — Benson’s stakes used to be 30 feet from the edge of the road, whereas now, the road is running right up against them, he said.

He also defended Benson’s requests for compensation, describing it as a “lease,” and said the pair had a valid reason for not raising concerns sooner.

“(Victoria Gold wasn’t) working on our claim in 2009,” Volf said. “Sure, they were working in the area but we didn’t track them around every day to see, ‘Oh, where are they now?’ It’s not up to the person who owns the claim to be tracking somebody in the area.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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