Robertson Headframe: Not Dead Yet…

Dampen the death knells; the Robertson Headframe may not be on its last legs — at least not yet. Yes, the demolition contract has been awarded. Yes, Miramar Northern Mining Ltd., the subsidiary of Newmont Mining that owns the site, is actively ticking the boxes needed to knock the iconic structure down. And yes, even if save-the-headframe mania won the day at City Hall, there are still major legal issues surrounding the transfer of liability from a company to a public government.

Yet for this all this, Yellowknife’s towering 8-bit cigarette is still standing, several months into prime blowing-stuff-to-smithereens season, and several months after reports that it would be taken down by late spring.

EDGE spoke to Miramar’s general manager Scott Stringer on Tuesday, and was surprised to learn he’s “still optimistic” that a deal can be reached to save the 76-metre building.

The company is preparing the pre-demolition paperwork, but —  “We’re still hoping we can find a way to keep it.”

His company’s legal team has been looking for solutions to the seemingly unsolvable legal Catch-22 that lead to the structure’s apparent death sentence last year — essentially Newmont/Miramar is willing to transfer ownership, but only to groups that can “fully indemnify [the company] of any financial or environmental liabilities that might be associated with [the headframe].” The City, in turn, cannot legally take on that much liability. And Miramar is still open to new demolition-prevention options, even if previous ideas have been half-baked, though well-intentioned. Optimistic as he is, Stringer wouldn’t confirm if Miramar is currently in discussion with the City or other groups, citing confidentiality.  

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Mayor Mark Heyck, for his part, told EDGE that he’s “not aware of any additional discussions regarding the headframe since Council discussed it last year.” This was echoed by the City’s director of communications, Nalini Naidoo: “As far as we know, City Staff (this does not include elected officials) have not contacted Newmont Mining about the preservation of the headframe.”

So it’s not time for headframe-heads to start popping champagne bottles. But demolition is not moving forward as quickly as some predicted when the demolition contract was awarded in March of this year.

Stringer said his company is preparing the pre-demolition paperwork — WSCC permission for blasting, municipal development permits — but they’re in no rush: “We’re still hoping we can find a way to keep it.”

And while “the contractor [Winnipeg-based Rakowski Cartage & Wrecking Ltd.] is ready to go,” no dates have been set, said Stringer. Even if demolition proves unavoidable, it may not happen this year.

“The drop-dead date is in line with [the mine site’s] closure plan… We’ve delayed the demolition since 2003 since shutting down, hoping we could find a resolution and we’re still working on that… we still have some time left on the water license in 2017, 2018.”

If Miramar has to pull the trigger, the surrounding buildings, like the collar house and the bit shop, will be dismantled. Then with the push of a button — or, who knows, a Wile E Coyote plunge of the dynamite trigger — the head frame will come crashing down in a controlled explosion. That is, unless Stringer’s optimism proves well-founded.  


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