News

Appealing the Permit to Knock Down the Robertson Headframe

by Walt Humphries, September 2016

I am no lawyer but this is the way I see it:

Almost a decade ago this head frame was given to the people of Yellowknife by Miramar Con Mine and the offer was accepted on our behalf by Mayor Gord Van Tighem. I would argue that Newmont who took over Miramar has failed to honour this obligation or negotiate in good faith. So knowing this, if the city grants the permit, they will be aiding and abetting both Miramar and Newmont in something that is akin to an ethical, moral and legal crime against the people of Yellowknife.  The city would not be doing its sworn duty to protect the interests of its residents. .

The city should reject this permit and tell Newmont or their now subsidiary company Miramar Con Mine, that they must negotiate with "the people" who want to save the head frame and turn it over to them  because that was the intent of the original offer and that is who are its rightful owners.

That head frame is an iconic part of  the Yellowknife skyline.  It should have been designated a heritage site by the city years ago. We are working at getting it national designation.  The National Trust for Canada also thinks it should be saved.

It is an important part of our culture, history and heritage. Last time when we did a petition to save it we had well over a thousand signatures. So the people of Yellowknife and all across the north want it saved.

It is a perfectly good building and can easily be re-purposed.

It saves lives as a beacon and is used by snowmobilers, boaters and even aircraft. It is used by the people in Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah as well as visitors and tourists. The ham radio club and Coast Guard Auxiliary support saving it.

It is the last head frame of any size left standing in the NWT and it is the only one we have any hope of saving. It is also the tallest building in the NWT. It may well be the only head frame of this type saved anywhere.

It can be used as a communications tower, a fire tower, a lookout spot in case of emergencies, a tourist attraction and a look out platform for aurora viewing.

It should be saved for these reasons but mainly because it was also to be given  to the people of the city to be held in trust in perpetuity.

So here is the history of this deal from my perspective and to the best of my recollection. For those of you who don't know it or can't remember it.

Miramar Mining Corporation owned and operated the Con Mine for a number of years. As they were shutting the mine down they let the NWT Mining Heritage Society have the run of the mine to salvage pieces of equipment and mine memorabilia. .

Miramar wanted to leave behind a legacy and make a gift to the people of Yellowknife. So they wanted to give the Head frame (free and clear) plus a million dollars to cover its maintenance and up keep, to the people of Yellowknife. So they made this offer to our then Mayor Gord Van Tighem, who accepted on behalf of the people. He held a meeting to announce this deal and directed city administration to work out the details and  formalize the deal..

Administration took their time in doing this and Newmont Mining took over Miramar Con Mine. They kept the name for a subsidiary company to clean up the mine site but it shouldn't be confused with the original Miramar so I will refer to it as Newmont's Miramar.  In doing so they took on all of Miramar's debt, liabilities and obligations, the transfer of the head frame to the people of Yellowknife being one.

They continued to negotiate with the city for close to a decade. So obviously they accepted the fact that they had this obligation but I would argue they weren't negotiating in good faith. To start with they were certainly dragging things out and they keep watering down what they were offering and putting more and more conditions on it.

Somehow they traded the head frame for the office warehouse. No one but city administration wanted the office warehouse. People want the head frame saved. Also the money offered shrank from a million dollars to "some money". And they kept adding conditions on to the deal including a million dollar environmental liability. Since the rules set out by MACA wouldn't allow this, the city had to back out of the deal.

I would argue that it was Newmont's intent to get the city to back out.

Since this left a real void I stepped in as president of the NWT Mining Heritage Society and part of an ad hoc group to negotiate with Newmont Miramar. It certainly was an exercise it futility.

We were told we had to submit a detailed proposal in writing. When we asked what they wanted in it we were told that they wouldn't say.

I asked surely Newmont has some concerns and  criteria that must be covered. I was told that yes they did but they wouldn't tell us what they were.

I was told that our society was too small to be considered as were local businesses. When I asked what size group, company or business would be considered again as I was told they wouldn't tell us.

When I asked about the people of Yellowknife I was told that people don't matter,

So trying to negotiate was an impossibility.  Finally after bugging head office with emails and phone calls the local rep actually agreed to sit down and talk. After we agreed to several conditions he threw out, he told us he wouldn't consider anything we had to say unless we had the GNWT agreement that the head frame could remain. A demand that suddenly came out of nowhere. We were told the demolition contract wouldn't be let for a month. So we set up a meeting with the GNWT and of course they rushed the demolition contract to a mere two weeks.

We went to talk to the GNWT and the GNWT got involved and started negotiating with Newmont-Miramar. Things seemed to be going well and while I don't know all the details it seemed to be a done deal but the liability issue had mysteriously grown to two million dollars of liability. Also what happened to the million dollars that was supposed to be given for the care and maintenance of the head frame.  It had disappeared.

Suddenly the GNWT backed out of the deal over financial consideration and the liability. So once again Newmont is rushing ahead to knock the head frame down before people can get organized.

In my experience, Newmont is an icy stone fortress of silence. If you write them, call or email they just don't respond at all. And the local office just shrugs things off. So once again they are refusing to talk or negotiate. They are trying to weasel out of their commitment and obligation to turn the head frame and a million dollars over to the people and worst yet they are getting away with it.

I get the distinct impression that they just consider the people of Yellowknife and the north are too small to be considered significant. If one company can get away with this and the city and GNWT allow it then others will try.

These are not the words or actions of a company that is trying to find a solution to the head frame problem or that is trying to live up to its obligations.

I would argue that these are the actions of a company that knows it has an obligation but is trying to get out of it. That is why they are in such a hurry now to knock it down. They hope the problem will go away then and no one will have the where-with-all to sue them for damages.

So the permit to knock this building down, which is in effect owned by the people should not be granted to Newmont -Miramar. They need to sit down with representatives of the people and work a deal to transfer it to someone or some group.

If the city does issue a permit I would assume they also would be putting them selves into a compromising position since they are supposed to be looked after the interests of the people.

I would put it this way. If someone comes to borrow your truck and then use it to help them commit a crime, you could argue you didn't know. But if you know they are going to rob a bank and use your car in the process, then you are guilty of aiding and abetting.

The city should know that if Newmont Miramar knocks the head frame down, then  they are breaking their obligation to turn the head frame and a million dollars over to the people of Yellowknife.

I am sure Newmont Miramar will try to justify this with their usual spiel.

"We have to knock it down because it is part of the remediation plan." So was the Con Mine trailer park and so is the office warehouse building. Saving a building is just a simple amendment to the water licence. The head frame is no different.

"We have to do it now due to the time constraint." Again Newmont will be here for decades to come as they treat the mine and tailings water, so the only sudden rush on this is one they have invented themselves.

The head frame can be turned over to a non-profit group formed for that purpose and the million dollars can be put into a trust fund with the Yellowknife Community Foundation. The principal can't be touched, it is there to cover that liability should it ever arise and the interest can be used by the society for the care and maintenance of the head frame.

Newmont Miramar likes to make things as complicated as possible to scare people off but this is really quite simple and straight forward. It is a real estate deal probably less complicated than turning over the Con Mine trailer camp.

The head frame was given to the people of Yellowknife and this is what it can become. If it is knocked down Newmont is stealing an asset from the people.

This is signed by Walt Humphries personally and of the people of Yellowknife who want to Save the Robertson Head Frame. The people who the head frame was given to.