No escape from the heat: Rossland mine tours closed indefinitely
Tourists looking to go underground and explore Rossland’s historic gold mines this summer will be out of luck as the Rossland museum is facing an unexpected closure of their key asset. Shortly after opening for the summer season, the museum society learned that they would not be able to operate their popular underground tour of the Black Bear tunnel. Having already launched their advertising for the year featuring the mine tours the museum is now in a tough spot of having to make a go of it without their top attraction. Typically, the mine tours contribute 75 to 80% of the museums visitors and subsequent revenue.
“We’ve already had a number of people from away get here and then see the sign on the door that says no mine tours and they’ve left, which is unfortunate,” explained Joyce Austin of the museum society. “It’s meant we’ve had to cut back quite dramatically our staff hours from full-time to part-time as our numbers are already significantly down from last year and we expect that to continue. We’re hoping locals will still support us this summer and come see the museum.”
The series of events leading up to the closure of the mine began last Halloween when two exchange students at RSS were inadvertently locked inside the mine for a short period of time following the school’s Fright Night event.
Subsequently, a safety review was completed under Teck’s direction that identified a number of safety issues and concerns related to the underground mine tour. Teck, a long time financial supporter of the museum and mine tour, are the owners of the land the museum sits on. This land is leased to the City of Rossland, which has primary responsibility for the operations and safety of the adit. The City has historically delegated day-to-day operation of the museum and underground tour to the Museum Society.
Teck has come up with a list 17 safety recommendations to be implemented before the tour can re-open. The extensive list aims to ensure safety for the mine tours and includes such potentially costly items as installing phone lines for 911 access into the tunnel, scaling the rock walls at least once a month, adding additional handrails, monitoring oxygen levels and instituting a tag-in-tag-out procedure for mine entrants. The list of recommendations was sent to the City of Rossland as the entity holding primary responsibility for the site. Teck then met with the City in January of this year and again in June to discuss the matter. Ultimately, Teck requested the City to produce a proposal addressing a number of safety concerns including the following:
- Organizational chart outlining roles, responsibilities and qualifications;
- Operating/procedures manual for day to day operations, including reporting requirements;
- Training manual;
- Safety manual;
- Protocol for retaining third party contractors for work performed at the adit; and
- Funding/budgets/cost management
“Safety is key for Teck and prior to the underground mine tour being re-opened, Teck needs to be satisfied that the City is taking responsibility for managing safety at the museum and that the tour can be operated in a safe manner and in accordance with best practices, with clear lines of reporting and accountability,” explained Richard Deane of Teck. “We do not want to be in a position where there is any confusion or uncertainty in regard to who is responsible for safety at the museum and for the tour.”
Acknowledging that the Rossland Museum and mine tour is a critical component of summer tourism in the region, Teck has offered to provide the City with financial assistance to retain third-party consultants to assess and develop the above proposal.
The Museum society was hopeful that with the instructions provided and a promise of funding assistance, the required measures might have been completed in time for this summer’s tourism season.
That was not the case, however. At a Committee of the Whole meeting on June 25th City Council voted to establish a select committee to consider the issue of accountability, commitment, operating structure, roles of the various parties, financing and other related museum and adit operations required for the opening of the adit (mine tour). This committee of citizens will now have 60 days to consult with the community and come up with the proposal Teck has requested.
For the museum unfortunately that 60-day period will wipe out their summer tourism season.
“We’re very disappointed and frustrated because we thought we could get moving on this a lot sooner,” said Austin. “It’s unfortunate about the kids being locked in the mine, but on a day-to-day basis that would never have happened. As hard as it will be on the museum this summer, though, beefing up our safety procedures is never a bad thing.”
Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom noted that while it is unfortunate that the museum will lose out on visitors and revenues this summer, it is an essential process for the City to go through.
“Teck wants the City of Rossland to take responsibility for the mine. We have to solve that first condition before anything can happen. The museum may be talking about safety and that may very well be true but the first step is the City must take responsibility to do whatever it is we decide to do up there. There are a whole bunch of things it could entail. That’s why we’re putting together the committee to go out in to the community and see what people think about it all.”
The Mayor was hopeful that this will be a successful process, however, adding that he expected that “the end result, hopefully, will be procedures and guidelines in place that satisfy Teck’s requirements and that we can move forward with opening a very valuable community and regional asset.”
In an attempt to cope through the summer, the museum is looking to potentially hold a concert of some type to generate excitement, interest and, ideally, some cash to make up for some of the lost tour revenue.
As a double whammy to the museum, the successful introduction of the Gold Fever Follies show on the museum grounds last summer will not be back this summer.
“The follies did not want to participate this year.,” added Austin. “I’m not exactly sure but it had something to do with their costumes and being outdoors. I guess it’s quite a job to keep them up. That’s one more thing we thought we’d have this year that we don’t now.”
The good news is that the museum has added a virtual video tour of the mine tunnel as well as a number of new exhibits to keep things interesting. Ironically, the newest exhibit is one on mine rescue and safety in the mine. There is also a new display on the history of the Mater Misercordae Hospital along with some new additions to the ski wing.
For all of the bad news, the society remains positive and encourages anyone who hasn’t been to the museum in a while to come up and check it out this summer.
“We’re being as positive as we can about the whole thing and want to move forward and get all of these issues sorted,” concluded Austin. “ We’re quite confident that we’ll come out better off in the future.”