Family feud at Bokan forces Ucore to consider legal options
JUNEAU — A letter, originating from an ongoing and bitter family feud, to several U.S. and state government officials raising vague “concerns” over ownership rights and operations of Ucore Rare Metals, Inc.’s Bokan Mountain project in Southeast Alaska has prompted the company to begin legal action to end what it says are completely false allegations that could harm its efforts to attract investors.
“I have no doubt now, based on this letter that she’s sent out, that we have to go legal,” said Jim McKenzie, CEO of Ucore, on July 24.
Ucore, a publicly traded company based in Nova Scotia, is preparing to release its preliminary economic assessment on the Bokan project in August and planning to begin mine operations in 2013.
Bokan Mountain, on Prince of Wales Island about 550 miles northwest of Vancouver, B.C., is a 19 square-mile project containing uranium and what may be the highest concentration of several rare earth elements in North America.
McKenzie said Ucore, which has spent $30 million on the project to date, has not suffered any direct financial costs from the letter but cannot risk the uncertainty it raises as it prepares to seek development investors.
“Whenever we raise money this issue of Mary has come up ... We’ve not gone legal before because she’s never been on record until she wrote the letter ... We just have to take this to court to shut her down,” he said.
“She” is Mary Dotson Anderson, a daughter of Bob Dotson, the Alaskan prospector who staked the original claims in 1955. In a July 9 letter to US Sen. Mark Begich, Anderson wrote, “I have great concerns of Ucore overstepping bounds and mining and or removing ore from our claims.”
The letter also alleges “possible misrepresentation and or using fraudulent information as to the 100% Bokan-Dotson property to obtain and receive government issued grant monies or public money,” and asks Begich to, “verify funds have not been dispersed without documentation that my claims are not included in their project.”
The letter was copied to Alaska’s other U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Gov. Sean Parnell, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the Bokan property, and media outlets including a Platts reporter.
Sharon Leighow, press secretary to Parnell, said his office has no record of receipt of the letter and would not be likely to respond. “The state does not resolve property disputes between private owners,” Leighow wrote in a July 25 email.
A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service offered a similar view.
“It’s mutually understood with the Forest Service and the BLM that claimants have to settle their own disputes. We do not sep off into that process,” said Ray Massey July 25.
Begich’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Anderson wrote that ownership of 25 claims that are part of the project remain in dispute between herself and her sons Raymond and David.
McKenzie called the letter “a stunt to put us under duress.”
He rejected its charges categorically and said options agreements signed in 2006 with four parties, including Bob Dotson, Mary other members of the family and other claims owners have been legally confirmed and accepted without complaint by all parties other than Dotson Anderson.
McKenzie also said Dotson Anderson’s claims have shown low mineralization, that Ucore has no plans to mine them and, despite its legal control, will bypass them in road construction and other development work.
Bob Dotson, who serves as a consultant to Ucore, said Mary owns 10 claims among several that she and other family members received for their work on the property but also rejected her complaints.
“Mary Dotson Anderson will do anything that she can possibly do to harm us ... I don’t think Mary has a leg to stand on,” Bob Dotson said July 25.
Mary Dotson Anderson could not be reached for comment. Sandra Everett, her sister, said July 25, that Dotson Anderson is incommunicado at Bokan Mountain working her claim as required by U.S. law to retain ownership and could be there for several weeks.