Squatters Row wants out

While stacking firewood, Skeeter Miller-Wright realized there was one avenue Squatters Row residents had yet to exhaust in their ongoing fight with Whitehorse. They had never requested secession.

While stacking firewood, Skeeter Miller-Wright realized there was one avenue Squatters Row residents had yet to exhaust in their ongoing fight with Whitehorse.

They had never requested secession.

The neighbourhood of about 25 to 30 voters is located on the south end of Whitehorse on the west side of the Alaska Highway, near McLean Lake.

And for 20 years they have fought quarry development around the nearby lake, infrastructure development and subdivision of their country-residential neighbourhood.

They have also demanded road maintenance they’re taxed for, but feel they do not receive.

They have attended council meetings, drafted petitions and won, and lost court battles, all to no avail.

Now, they have written the Yukon Municipal Board, requesting to be removed from city limits.

“For a matter of decades now, basically we’ve been ignored,” said Miller-Wright, who is a community spokesperson and NDP candidate for the riding.

“It’s not just ignored. We’ve made it quite clear what our interests are, what our concerns are, and what the municipality has done is ignored us, disrespected us and definitely has not done anything to address our interests and concerns.”

Stopping more quarry developments and developing a protected park around McLean Lake has been the group’s biggest battle. They tried for a referendum, after gathering 2,600 signatures from across Whitehorse, and because of the municipality’s planning decisions for the lake, they took Whitehorse to court, twice.

“In both court cases, that we won, the city simply changed the bylaw to nullify the court decisions,” he said. “They’ve never told us why it is that they are ignoring our interests and concerns. They’ve never explained why they will not reflect our interests in what they’re doing with the bylaws in McLean Lake.”

The proposed changes to city boundaries would, literally, circle the neighbourhood, creating an independent enclave.

The new border would extend to the original city limit southwest of their residences, encompassing much of the land and waterways in between, but would stop at the Alaska Highway and exclude the Philmar RV property located there.

If annexed from the city, Miller-Wright and his neighbours feel they will get more respect from the territorial government.

“Our interests have been well supported by our MLAs for over two decades, despite changes of political representation,” wrote the group in its proposal to the municipal board.

The territorial system’s use of electoral ridings allows for more accountability, whereas the municipality’s absence of a ward system leaves the area without a spokesperson, said Miller-Wright, adding this proposal has nothing to do with his current campaign to represent the region in the legislative assembly.

The Yukon Municipal Board has received the group’s application and has sent letters to Whitehorse and the territory, requesting comments or information by September 15, said Barb Evans, the board’s secretary.

But that does not mean the board will assess the request, she said. It still has to make that decision. And, even if it does, other proponents, or the courts, could challenge the board’s jurisdiction to hear the issue, she added.

“This is still an extremely preliminary stage of the process,” she said.

But McLean Lake residents are not asking for something outrageous.

The process for being added or removed from a municipality is laid out in the Yukon Municipal Act, which states the board can consider the proposal if at least 30 per cent of the affected residences support it. With the exception of a few people who are still on vacation or out in the bush, the McLean Lake group has close to 100 per cent support, said Miller-Wright.

And this has happened before.

In the 1990s, the west boundary of Dawson City was moved. And then moved back, said Evans.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com