Mine study in limbo as Nanaimo waits for word from province

NANAIMO – The city has been waiting nearly a year for the province to respond to a request for partnership on new mine study.

The stability of Nanaimo’s century-old coal mines remains a mystery one year after city politicians agreed to study underground tunnels.

Nanaimo’s first proactive and high-level investigation into abandoned coal mines and the potential for their collapse is still waiting at the starting gates despite being seen as necessary by city officials.

According to Poul Rosen, the city’s manager of engineering projects, the holdup is the B.C. government, which had indicated it would be willing to team up to determine the risk of underground mines but hasn’t formally responded to Nanaimo’s request for a partnership after nearly a year.

With the responsibility of the mines falling to the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, Rosen isn’t sure if the city would want to proceed with the review, at an estimated $50,000 cost, on its own.

“From the city’s perspectives, the roads and so on, those are the components that are at risk from a subsidence event. So we sort of own the consequences, but the ministry really owns why that’s occurring,” Rosen said. “We don’t really think at this point that it’d be appropriate for us to move forward wholesale on this thing on our own.”

City politicians agreed last March to engage a team of consultants that would map areas of underground coal mines that could collapse into sink holes and to ask the B.C. government to partner on understanding the risks that tunnels could pose either through funding or access to technical information. The decision followed the discovery of a two-storey-deep coal mine void and developing sink hole beneath a Nanaimo road.

John Ruttan, Nanaimo’s mayor at the time, said by finding vulnerable mine shafts and tunnels before they collapse the city can prevent public safety issues and budget for remediation. The city knows where mines are, but not their condition.

Mayor Bill McKay said he voted for studying the mines with big concerns for potential liability. A letter to the minister from council and the mayor might be in order to get information, he said.

In an e-mail to the News Bulletin, David Haslam, spokesman for the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, did not say why the province hasn’t responded to date, but that the ministry is determining the specifics of what kind of support can be offered and expect to have an official response to the city soon.