A fight over a forgotten mining town

Kitsault, B.C., has been virtually abandoned since the early ’80s

Kitsault, an abandoned B.C. mining town, sits 900 km north of Vancouver. When demand for the mine’s molybdenum, a type of metal used to harden steel, dried up in the early 1980s, the operation was shut down and the town’s 1,200 residents up and left. A sole custodian stayed behind to mow lawns and keep the lights on. Even the pint glasses in the pub are still stacked and ready to be used. But otherwise Kitsault was largely forgotten. Now the ghost town is at the heart of a lawsuit involving a company trying to revive the mine, and the town’s unusual history has only grown stranger.

In 2005, Krishnan Suthanthiran, an Indian-born entrepreneur who struck it rich selling medical devices, bought the town for US$5.7 million. His plan, according to reports, is to develop it into an eco-retreat and educational centre for unwed mothers, despite its remote location near the Alaskan panhandle.

But the roads that run through Kitsault also represent the best way to get to the old mine, which, with molybdenum prices soaring, is once again a going concern. Last week Avanti Mining, a junior miner headquartered in Denver, Colo., bought the mine for $20 million from mining giant Alcoa. The problem is, Suthanthiran refuses to allow Avanti access to the mine through the town.

Avanti CEO Craig Nelsen says the company retains a statutory right of way to use the roads through the town, while Suthanthiran’s Kitsault Resorts claims that right has expired (Suthanthiran himself could not be reached for comment). The case is now headed to the B.C. Supreme Court. “The right of way is an asset we purchased from Alcoa and he’s saying it doesn’t exist,” says Nelsen. “It’s pretty clear what the document says, but he won’t talk to us—so we’ve been forced to go to court.”

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