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Robertson Shaft in limbo

Peter Varga
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Despite overwhelming public support to save the Robertson Shaft headframe at the Con Mine site, no groups have responded to the city's request for proposals for a preservation plan for the Yellowknife landmark.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Despite public lobbying to save the Con Mine's Robertson headframe - Yellowknife's most prominent landmark since the mid-1970s - groups willing to take on the preservation project have yet to come forward. - Peter Varga/NNSL photo

The city was to have announced a successful bidder for the project by March 11.

"We didn't get any actual response to the RFP (request for proposals)," said Dennis Kefalas, director of public works with the city.

At this stage, he added, the city's Department of Economic Development "is approaching several consultants in town to see if they can do a joint report."

The report will highlight what the city could do with the headframe if it were to take over the landmark, he said.

Last November, dozens of Yellowknifers urged the city to preserve the 250-foot tall landmark - Yellowknife's tallest structure and possibly the tallest manmade structure in the North. In response, the city resolved to undertake efforts to stop the demolition of the headframe. To do so, it must assume responsibility for the structure from the owners, Newmont Mining Corporation - who originally planned to demolish the structure this summer.

The city secured a promise from Newmont not to demolish the structure this year, and discussions between the two are underway. Newmont must by law remove all structures from the site, as specified in an approved abandonment and restoration plan.

"The city has asked us to extend the deadline (to demolish the structure) to the summer of 2010, which no doubt we will do," said Ron Connell, environmental and reclamation manager for Con Mine. "But we haven't submitted a formal letter or anything like that. We're just waiting for a couple of things to happen."

The City of Yellowknife recently sent a request to Newmont detailing stipulations that must be fulfilled in order to take over the headframe, Kefalas said.

"This will have an impact on our decision, whether we take it over or not," he said.

The city confirmed ownership of the headframe would be transferred to the city, not purchased. How the city would legally assume responsibility for the headframe is under discussion.

"We have to come up with a plan of what to do with it, so we can then undertake to accept it, and then we have to negotiate the acceptance with them," said Mayor Gord Van Tighem.

The city has a range of plans to consider for preserving the shaft in order to make the project worthwhile, the mayor said. The city must weigh how the project "fits into our ability to raise revenues," he said.

"Is there something other than the fact that it's the tallest building in the Northwest Territories and that it's a sort of a signal to people coming in by boats and airplanes - that they get close to home and all these other romantic sorts of things?" the mayor said. "Are there other practical uses for it? That's where we're at."

Asked if he was surprised no groups have come forward to preserve the headframe, Connell said the project is "difficult" and a "big, big undertaking."

"It'll take a coalition-type group to put together the business plan to do that," he said. "I'm sure some group will come forward at some time, but it's all in limbo right now."

All the same, "we're under an obligation in our closure plan to tear it down," Connell said of the shaft. "And unless somebody - the city or whatever steps forward - we have to tear it down by law. It's that simple."