Mine next door: a new meaning for love thy neighbour

The Ajax File: All That Glitters - Part 5 of 5

Whether it's the Waihi Gold in New Zealand or redevelopment in Timmins, Ont., history shows people and mineral production can be too close for comfort.

If the Ajax Mine in Kamloops is approved and reaches production in as little as four years, rock dumps are slated to be just over a kilometre away from established housing in Aberdeen and Pineview Valley.

In Timmins, which grew up around mining in Northern Ontario, a redevelopment of a historic mine is across the street from established subdivisions.

"The Hollinger project will be in the heart of our city," said Mayor Tom Laughren.

The town was founded 100 years ago based on mining.

The Hollinger project is a redevelopment by Goldcorp that places housing and an open pit mine side-by-side with only a 20-metre berm between them.

"Noise and dust is the reason they put the berm up - it's to protect the community," said Laughren, who comes across as an enthusiastic supporter of mining in his community.

Regulations governing the project include placing vibration meters on underground pipelines to ensure the company will meet its commitment.

"They're very regulated. Goldcorp specifically is very much in tune with the community," Laughren said.

Unlike Timmins, development of Ajax would place Kamloops in a unique position of having a neighbourhood mine follow 125 years of development at a city of 80,000. But there is another example of proximity of mines and residential housing much closer to home.

Dave Monsees estimates he's about a kilometre from the Afton Mine pit, being redeveloped as an underground project by New Gold Inc.

Monsees and his wife, Cynthia, moved to their home on a Cherry Creek acreage beside the Trans-Canada Highway more than 30 years ago, at the same time as the Afton Mine was being developed as an open pit operation.

"They were just at the top layer at the time," said Monsees.

He acknowledged "there was the odd day" when blasting was more noticeable than the constant rush of passing motorists on the Trans-Canada Highway but it's never been a concern.

Open pit mines typically blast every two or three days on a precise schedule.

"If you sat quietly and listened carefully, the odd time you'd feel the ground or hear it. It was so subtle."

But some are more sensitive, Monsees admitted.

"A few dogs ran away," he said of neighbours' experiences at the time. "Our dog was spooked."

While Timmins mayor Laughren is a mining booster, he acknowledges poor historical practices have left a legacy in the form of sinkholes that have emerged in some areas, including within a hundred meters of commercial development from a former underground mine.

Instances of subsidence appeared a decade ago and reappeared this year.

"With today's modern mining, I have a hard time believing that would happen today."

Monsees, an equipment supply salesman, works with the mining industry and is an unabashed booster of mineral development. He said Teck's Afton Mine was always a good neighbour. Most concerns could be solved with a phone call to the nearby office.

"When they shut down you wouldn't know any different. We never had any dust and the prevailing winds come from there."

At New Zealand's historic underground Martha Mine, American company Newmont Mining redeveloped the property as an open pit mine in the midst of the city as Waihi Newmont Gold in 1988. In 2001, subsidence from historical underground mining caused emergency evacuation at some homes.

According to the company's website, Newmont relocated houses and purchased some property, at a cost of $6 million.

In Timmins, in addition to subsidence from historic underground workings, dust has also been a problem at times, particularly from historic tailings ponds that have dried up.

"We've had dust," said the mayor. "Am I going to say there's no dust? No. But I know companies are striving hard to exceed guidelines from ministries."

Laughren said companies have employed workers at times to continuously water roads to keep down dust.

"In winter that's tough to do," he acknowledged.

Laughren also said in the case of redevelopment at the Hollinger Mine, Goldcorp responded to community concerns about back-up alarms for heavy equipment - potential lifesavers but an obvious irritant to neighbours.

"Goldcorp creatively did some things working with experts in equipment to mitigate that noise and do something different at night."

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