Binkleys lose again on bitter gold dredge access fight

The Alaska Supreme Court has again decided in favor of Fairbanks land developer John Reeves in his long-running battle with the Binkley family over access to property near Gold Dredge No. 8 in Fox, a site visited by thousands of people from around the world every week.

The court last week rejected a claim from the Binkleys that Reeves improperly concealed his ownership of an easement across property they bought for the Binkley tourist railway that takes customers to the dredge for gold panning all summer long.

The Binkleys said Reeves planned to build a road, raise the grade 2.5 feet and start running big dump trucks to his commercial landfill, damaging their business.

While the decision is not the final word on the standoff, it gives Reeves an edge in a dispute that is likely to prove costly for the Binkleys.

The warring parties are two of the most prominent families in the history of Interior Alaska tourism. There are strong wills on both sides, which is one reason why there have been mediation sessions, a non-jury trial and appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Reeves is a larger-than-life character who had the vision and skills to turn a broken-down gold dredge into a major tourist attraction more than 35 years ago, later selling it to Holland America. He is a savvy businessman whose place in American legal history was assured when he successfully sued the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., after the oil companies appropriated his idea for a pipeline visitor center in Fox. The companies paid about $4.8 million.

For three generations, the Binkleys have operated the Riverboat Discovery, expanding over the past few decades with a gold mining attraction now based on the property they bought from Holland America about 10 miles north of Fairbanks on the Old Steese Highway.

The court ruled in January that the short tourist railway built by the Binkleys to take customers to the dredge amid the piles of gravel tailings crosses an easement of up to 100 feet owned by Reeves.

After the parties could not agree between 2009 and 2012 on the sale of the easement, Reeves built a rough dirt road on it. The Binkleys blocked the road with gravel berms and have been in court ever since trying to get a declaration that the easement no longer exists. 

At a three-day trial in 2013, Reeves said that the Binkleys "came in like a thief and stole" his property rights by blocking the road.

"I didn't try and steal the easement," John Binkley said at the trial, adding that he was protecting his family's property rights.

"We weren't trying to sue you John, but that's what prompted us to take action to try and get the injunction and get the court to decide what is the status of the easement," Binkley said at the trial.

The Supreme Court has confirmed that the easement stands.

The Binkleys operate through Godspeed Properties LLC and Gold Dredge 8 LLC, which are owned by members of the family, including Ryan Binkley, president and CEO of the Anchorage Daily News.

The drawing below, included in the court files, shows the easement between the lots marked MS-1724, a lot purchased by the Binkleys from Alice Ellingson, and MS-851, home of the dredge. The railroad crosses from MS-1724 to MS-851.

Reeves owns MS-1709, west of the gold dredge, at the end of the easement.

A Fairbanks Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Binkleys five years ago, but the Supreme Court overturned that decision.

In the latest round, the Binkleys said Reeves "concealed his purported easement during negotiations with Godspeed prior to Godspeed purchasing the property from the Ellingsons," a claim rejected by Reeves. 

In any event, the court said July 13 that the Binkleys did not flush out this argument before the lower court, so there is no reason to consider it on appeal.

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Dermot Cole1 Comment