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GNWT abandons last ditch headframe talks citing risk
Advocates wonder what went astray with negotiations

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Secret talks to save the iconic Robertson Headframe have failed.

Cabinet opted to not risk taking on the estimated $2 million liability for the 25-storey blue, white and red iconic structure at the former Con gold mine, according to a deputy minister with the territorial government.

NNSL photo/graphic

Con Mine's Robertson Headframe, an iconic part of the Yellowknife skyline for nearly 40 years, won't be saved by the GNWT. - NNSL file photo -

The GNWT "has determined after a lengthy review of options that it will not be preserving the Robertson Headframe," stated a brief news release issued late Friday afternoon. The options considered weren't disclosed.

Newmont Mining Corporation's subsidiary Miramar Northern Mining Ltd. has been carrying out remediation on the site since the mine closed in 2003, including demolition of existing structures.

Talks between the GNWT and Miramar aimed at stalling the headframe demolition ended with the determination a "suitable agreement could not be reached," the statement continued.

No cabinet minister was available for an interview, including the premier or lands minister.

Willard Hagen, deputy minister of Lands, late Tuesday afternoon told Yellowknifer the GNWT's financial management board recommended cabinet end talks because it wasn't "prudent" to take on liability for the structure at a time when the GNWT is cutting jobs.

"It just didn't add up. Another time and a different economic climate, it might have been different," Hagen said.

Hagen, who stepped into the lands position at the beginning of July, said the GNWT relied on the City of Yellowknife's analysis of the risks of taking over the structure, produced when it had been part of negotiations to save the headframe.

The city ended those talks more than a year ago, stating the risk was too great for it to take on alone.

Paige Saunders, one of several businesspersons who had approached the GNWT with a proposal to save the headframe, wrote in an opinion piece published online Tuesday the government wasn't actually interested in saving the headframe and continually dragged its proverbial feet after being presented a plan to try to save the structure at "little-to-no cost" to taxpayers.

Hagen disputed that.

"I don't believe that for one little minute, I think it's a little bit of fantasy writing there. The fact is the government entered into negotiations with Miramar in good faith and like any negotiation sometimes it comes to fruition and sometimes it doesn't," he said. "They weren't dragging their feet at all."

Hagen said the government hadn't heard anything from the business group to suggest a plan to take over the structure as a business or tourist attraction would actually be put in place.

There was no answer at a cell phone number Tuesday previously used by Saunders.

Saunders wrote that the government's news release shrouded the conversation in mystery while painting a picture that it genuinely tried to do something.

"Don't believe it," he wrote.

Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said Monday that cabinet, lead by a premier who tasked a minister specifically to increase transparency, had yet to inform regular MLAs about what was considered and what lead to the cessation of talks.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart said Tuesday there's been no official word on what happened.

"Members of the community who are upset about this decision or would like to see it go another way, they'll have to take that up with cabinet at this point because it's been left out of our hands," Testart said.

Walt Humphries of the NWT Mining Heritage Society was among a group of people who met with a GNWT minister and department staff earlier this year around the time Yellowknifer reported a Winnipeg-based demolition firm had been hired to carry out a controlled explosion to bring down the structure. The group pitched a plan after Newmont said the only way to save the structure was government involvement, he said.

"It looked like it was going to be a done deal and things were going to happen in a few weeks," Humphries, who is also a Yellowknifer columnist, said Monday.

Those involved were sworn to secrecy and he still didn't want to say who else attended the meeting with the minister, who he declined to name.

However, it became clear an effort no one wanted to discuss was underway when the structure remained standing after its terminal date with explosives and gravity came and went.

After news broke July 13 of the talks, MLAs decried government secrecy, arguing they should have been informed of what the government was discussing.

Vanthuyne said elected officials had voiced a view that they support saving the headframe but not if it leaves taxpayers on the hook for costs such as future liability.

On Friday, the government announced those talks had fallen apart. The public and those who have tried to save the structure deserve to know more about why talks failed, Humphries said.

"What is the stumbling block after you spent months negotiating and coming to what was going to be the final agreement?" Humphries said.

Scott Stringer with Miramar wasn't available for an interview Tuesday.

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