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Miner looks to sell B.C. Ghost Town

Paul Waldie, Globe and Mail, Sept 14, 2004

Rudy Nielsen has dealt with some unique properties in his 40 years of selling ranches and vacation homes around British Columbia, but he has never tackled anything quite like this before.

Mr. Nielsen is marketing an entire town, Kitsault, B.C. to be exact, and the asking price is $7 million. For that price, the buyer gets not only 92 houses perched on a mountain's edge in a tranquil ocean inlet, nestled in a dense evergreen forest and surrounded by coastal mountain vistas, but also:

Seven apartment buildings, containing 210 suites;

One fully equipped hospital with a never-used X-ray machine;

Two recreation centres, complete with a swimming pool, gym, hot tub, racquetball courts, library, theatre, curling rink and Maple Leaf pub;

A brand new shopping mall that includes facilities for a liquor store, bank, post office and several specialty stores;

More than 80 hectacres of wilderness, including roughly one kilometer of beach.

The town, about 140 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert, has been abandoned since the nearby molybdenum mine closed in 1982. After a series of mergers, Kitsault ended up in the hands of U.S. copper giant Phelps Dodge Corp, and the company has decided to be put the whole place up for sale.

Kitsault "is not something we have any plans for, so it's an opportunity," company spokesman Ken Vaughn said.

"If there is someone out there is some plans to make good use of the property, then maybe we can make that happen."

Mr. Nielsen's company, NIHO Land & Cattle Co, based in New Westminster was recently retained to market the town, and so far he has attracted one interested buyer, a U.S. company that specializes in recreation property.

Mr. Nielsen won't name the potential buyer, but said that "most people are going to look at this town to take the houses and sell them as single-family units in the $69,000 price range."

He added that most of the houses have three bedrooms, full basements and fireplaces.

The sale would end the short but colourful history of Kitsault, which once boasted 1,200 residents. The area has long been associated with silver mining and the gold rush. That changes in the 1960's with the discovery of molybdenum, an additive used in steel production.

In 1978, Amax Canada Development Ltd, whose U.S. parent was the world's largest producer of molybdenum, acquired the site from a copper producer and announced plans to develop a $200 million mine at Kitsault.

The project opened in 1981, after a bitter dispute with local natives over the disposal of waste from the mine, and the company spent $50 million building the town site. Soon there was a road to Terrace, B.C., almost four hours away by car, and regular flights to Prince Rupert.

But the molybdenum market went into a tail spin, and in November 1982, Amax announced a temporary shutdown. The mine never reopened, and in July, 1983, the last townsfolk departed.

Mr. Nielsen said Kitsault is in remarkably good shape, considering how long it has been left alone. A caretaker employer by Phelps Dodge has been living on site for years and has kept most of the buildings heated and in decent condition.

Power lines, telephone service and sewage connections are intact, he noted, and even the boulevards have been maintained.

The X-ray machine in the hospital is still in its plastic wrapping, and the gym is in such good condition that the caretaker hosts an annual basketball match with his friends every New Year's Eve.

Mr. Nielsen says he visits Kitsault regularly because he owns land in the area.

"When you are walking the streets, there is nobody around, and it really gives you a weird feeling like, "Holy Smokes"" he said. adding that he loves racing through stops signs at high speed.

"You really feel you are on another planet."