No guarantee mine study will move ahead

Province agrees to assist in risk assessment of abandoned mine network underneath Nanaimo.

There’s no guarantee a study of Nanaimo’s abandoned coal mines will go ahead despite a recent commitment of in-kind assistance by the B.C. government.

The B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines committed staff resources on Friday to study the stability of Nanaimo mines.

The news comes two years after city officials decided to launch its first proactive and high-level investigation into abandoned coal mines, after a developing sinkhole and two-storey deep coal mine collapse was discovered on Pine Street.

The city is built upon a network of abandoned coal mines and while the 2014 discovery wasn’t the first time Nanaimo had a collapsed mine, the municipality’s senior manager of engineering Poul Rosen previously said it was the first time the city had encountered a mine that presented an immediate and ‘serious’ safety issue and it prompted plans to search for other dangerous and weakened tunnels.

That search hasn’t gotten underway.

The previous Nanaimo city council called for a partnership with the ministry as part of its decision to go forward with the investigation, but as of last Thursday, Rosen said there had been multiple letters and no response from the government and he believed the city had hit a dead end in getting a partnership.

Neither was the city prepared to go it alone, seeing mines as being the province’s jurisdiction.

As of Friday, Jim Dunkley, senior inspector of mines, told the News Bulletin the minister’s office has committed to provide in-kind services, essentially staff time, to the city study. He couldn’t say why there hadn’t previously been a response or when resources would be provided, adding it would likely be worked out in the next two to four weeks.

But even with the latest commitment, Rosen can’t guarantee the study will go ahead. The city has to identify dollars in the budget and would take the study to council.

“It’s certainly promising that the province sort of seems to be willing to come to the table now, but I wouldn’t say there’s any guarantee it’s going to happen,” Rosen said. “It’s going to have to go in front of council and they are going to have to decide whether they want to do this or not.”

The first phase of the study was estimated at $50,000 and as a pilot, the city would focus on the Douglas Mine, which has a shallow western edge.

The more shallow the mine, the more risk there is, according to Rosen, who explains as the roof of the mine starts to subside there’s a void in the sedimentary rock and when it’s unsupported, roof pieces will fall out in cone shapes or flakes. The process occurs progressively over a long period of time, so slowly the roof migrates upward. Once the void gets beyond the roof rock, he said it can cause a problem pretty quickly.

He said the city is not aware of any problem areas, but over the long term, the potential is there.

“With the current information that we have, there’s no evidence we need to tackle this immediately. It’s more of a due diligence, it’s a prudent thing to do to assess the risk because we know there’s some potential there,” he said.