Bitter battle between Reeves and Binkleys escalates with $500,000 easement claim
The long and costly feud between John Reeves and John Binkley, whose family owns a major Fairbanks tourist operation and the Anchorage Daily News, enters a new phase this week with another court trial in Fairbanks.
The outcome could determine how much the Binkley family has to pay to continue to run the tourist railroad at Gold Dredge 8, which carries thousands of passengers on summer days, but crosses an easement owned by Reeves that he wants to be paid for.
One of the family-owned companies named in the lawsuit is Gold Dredge 8 LLC, which is managed by Ryan Binkley, who is also president and CEO of the Anchorage Daily News.
Through their lawyer, Mike Kramer, the Binkleys have told the court that Reeves is mainly interested in damaging their business and “has only spoken vaguely of starting a competing tourist attraction or moving his daughters’ gold panning attraction from its current prime location off the Steese Highway.”
Reeves, whose daughters operate the Gold Daughters mining operation for tourists, still owns other property near the dredge that could be accessed through the easement.
In a settlement offer last year, Reeves asked for $500,000 from the Binkleys for having blocked the easement from 2012-2018—his estimate of the number of customers who rode the tourist railroad during those years. He also asked for “a dollar per person for every customer who crosses the easement starting in 2019 and going forward,” for a minimum of $25,000 a year. He sought details of internal Binkley operations so he could confirm the customer count and plans for the easement.
The Binkleys did not consider $1 per person to be a “reasonable rental rate for blocking the easement.”
The court is to decide the width of the easement, which the Binkleys have crossed and blocked with the tourist railroad at the dredge. The Alaska Supreme Court has already ruled twice in favor of Reeves that the easement is legitimate.
The discussions to settle this dispute began in 2010 between John Binkley and Reeves. In 2012, the Binkleys went to court. The Binkleys “have made every conceivable claim and argument to nullify the easement and block Reeves’ use of the easement,” according to Reeves’ lawyer, Joe Sheehan.
Kramer said the Binkleys have “developed a world class tourist attraction,” the aesthetics of which would be “significantly diminished” if the easement becomes a public road and crosses the tracks at two spots. He contends that the easement is less than 60 feet wide, which is the minimum required for a public road.
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 major gold mining attraction now based on the property first developed by Reeves, which they bought from Holland America and expanded. It is about 10 miles north of Fairbanks on the Old Steese Highway.