Subsurface rights skirmish

H. Coyne and Sons may have lost the latest round with a local developer, but the fight isn't over. On Monday, city council approved a zoning amendment for the second phase of the Raven's Ridge subdivision near McIntyre Creek.

H. Coyne and Sons may have lost the latest round with a local developer, but the fight isn’t over.

On Monday, city council approved a zoning amendment for the second phase of the Raven’s Ridge subdivision near McIntyre Creek.

At issue are portions of two lots that the Coynes hold subsurface rights to.

The family business holds Crown grants, which give them the right to exploit the underground mineral resources on the proprieties.

Two months ago, when this zoning amendment first came up, Jim Coyne appeared before council demanding compensation for any loss of access to those grants.

Crown grants are a holdover from the early 20th century. When the federal government administered the territory’s land, it would issue grants for both surface and subsurface rights.

No Crown grants have been issued since the 1940s, when the territory’s Lands Act was created. The Yukon government has been buying them up for years, but a few still exist.

Historically the area is rich in minerals, said Frasier Roberts, a representative of H. Coyne and Sons, at Monday’s city council meeting.

The company wants to do more exploration work on the property, but is unsure of who they should talk to about the project.

“We don’t know who we should be dealing with on issues such as access or compensation,” he said.

The Coynes aren’t the only ones confused.

Because Crown grants are so rare, it’s not something that the city deals with very often.

The city received a legal opinion that any dispute should be handled by the Yukon Surface Rights Board, but some city councillors still worry that by allowing the subdivision to proceed, it may expose itself to a lawsuit.

“At some point the subsurface owner would have a concern that their right to access is circumscribed by us,” said Coun. Kirk Cameron.

He wanted the city to try to facilitate a meeting between the two parties to resolve the outstanding issues.

Cameron had the support of Coun Ranj Pillai, but the rest of council thought that such a move would overstep its authority.

“We’re dealing with zoning here,” said Coun Dave Stockdale.

Trying to get both parties to the table may be the right thing to do, but it isn’t council’s responsibility, he said.

“It’s up to the subsurface rights’ owners to go to the Yukon Surface Rights Board and make their case,” said Stockdale.

In the end, council decided to approve the zoning for the subdivision in a four to two vote.

After the meeting, Mark Radke, one of the directors of Raven’s Ridge Developments, met with H. Coyne and Sons and offered to give them access to the property to do exploration work.

“I don’t think there’s much appetite for that, though,” said Radke. “Really, in my discussions with them, I got the sense that they’re opposed to any development happening on the surface at all.”

One issue that wasn’t addressed was whether council was prepared for mining to take place within the city, he said.

“That’s the logical question out there,” said Radke.

H. Coyne and Sons couldn’t be reached for comment.

The subdivision still has to go for detailed design and get final approval, but if all goes well, lots could go on sale as early as this fall, said Radke.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com