News

1. Donkin collapse

The Donkin headland. Photo: Morien Resources Corp.

“Work at the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton has been suspended after a roof collapse late last week,” reports the CBC:

There was no mining operation underway when the collapse occurred Dec. 28 and no injuries were reported, said Shannon Kerr, a spokesperson for the provincial Labour Department.

Donkin mine vice-president Shannon Campbell told CBC News in a statement the mine had “experienced certain adverse geological conditions beyond our control” during the scheduled Christmas shutdown.

Er, isn’t that known as a “bump“? Sez Wiki:

In room and pillar mining, tunnels are advanced in a rectangular pattern resembling city streets (tunnels), leaving behind blocks (pillars) of coal. To a miner, a partially completed tunnel resembles a room dug into the coal seam. As mining proceeds, the weight of rock overburden previously supported by coal mined from rooms is redistributed to pillars. If that weight exceeds the strength of a pillar, the pillar can fail by crushing or exploding. An explosive failure is called a “bump.”

In the eastern United States’ coalfields, bumps are more likely when the overburden is at least 500 feet (150 m); where a strong, overlying stratum, such as sandstone, occurs near the coalbed; and with a strong, inflexible floor. In the United States, the number of deaths from bumps had dropped off dramatically since the early 1990s, but fatalities are more common in the West where mines often run deeper. Bumps are three times more likely in room-and-pillar mines, and are even more common in mines that do retreat mining, in which the pillars are removed as the miners retreat towards the mine entrance with the intent of allowing an orderly collapse of the mine.

In October, Nova Scotia Energy and Mines senior geologist John Calder explained the geology behind the 1958 Springhill Mine Bump to the Amherst News:

Coal mining techniques were constantly changing at the time, and while it was the scene of two major mine disasters, Springhill’s mines were considered cutting edge when it came to using new methods of extracting coal from the ground.

For generations, Calder said, mining was done in a room and pillar style with “rooms” where coal was removed using pick and shovel and “pillars” of coal left to hold up the roof rock.

“The thing is, when you’re removing that coal seam, you have all that weight and pressure of the rocks above you all the way to the surface bearing down on the workspace, but you’re also putting pressure right on the face of the coal you’re working on,” Calder said.

“It acts like a lever, almost like a nutcracker, with the coal face being the nut and the handles are the roof and the floor of the open space.”

Unique geography

Unfortunately, the nature of the area’s geology was the reason for the bump. Calder paints a very different picture of Springhill 300 million years ago: a  tropical wetland located near the equator.

“Off to the north, there were meandering river systems that wound their way down through the Cumberland Basin, heading northeast toward an unknown sea,” he said. “Those rivers would eventually find their way, moving laterally and over the peatlands, which became coal. Those river systems left behind sandstone bodies about 20 metres thick and about a kilometre in width.”

These massive sandstone deposits sat on top of the coal and normally did not give way easily. The pressure would build up, and instead of dissipating gradually as mining operations continued, it would hold fast until it released in a violent rock burst.

The bump all came down to digging coal at great depths and leaving large empty spaces deep underground. Bumps, he added, would not happen in shallower mines.

“I’ve never been underground where there was a violent rock burst because, by the time I come around in the 1970s, access to the mines in Springhill were all shallow,” he said. “You had to be at a depth, or vertical cover, of about 2,000 feet in order to get enough pressure building up to cause this problem.”

So what do we have at Donkin?

“A large coal basin of Carboniferous age, the coalfield extends towards north and northeast from the northern part of Cape Breton Island under the Atlantic Ocean towards Newfoundland,” explains Mining Technology:

The landward portion of the coalfield comprises less than 5% of the total coal measure sequence.

The mine is classified as a low-type A structural complexity. The resource block extends over an area of approximately 100,000ha.

The Donkin area hosts up to 11 coal seams, of which three seams, namely Lloyd Cove; Hub; and Harbour, have the potential for underground mining.

Room-and-pillar (board-and-pillar) mining method with partial pillar extraction using four continuous miners is applied to extract coal from Donkin.

The main development area of the Harbour seam is located along the strike of the seam and runs from east and west of the access tunnels. The secondary or production panels will be driven downwards to a depth of 600m.

Six hundred meters is slightly more than the 2,000 feet John Calder, the mining geologist, said is necessary for a bump.

The CBC reminds us that “former workers said last March the mine is a disaster in waiting, with employees subjected to dangerous conditions, including ceiling cave-ins.”:

Inspection records from February 2017 to February 2018 showed the mine had struggled to solve problems with falling rocks and coal. In one area where rocks had fallen, an inspector noted the roof had “little to no self-supporting ability.”

Of course, Donkin management insists that “safe production was its No. 1 priority.”

Chris Cline. Photo: Jamel Toppin / Forbes

Yet, the Donkin operation is operated by Kameron Coal, which is a subsidiary of The Cline Group, controlled by American billionaire Chris Cline.

Cline is the predictable piece of work: a climate change denier and an all-around horrible person.

“The Wisconsin Resource Council cites Devon Cupery, a producer of the Al Jazeera documentary, Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, who says Cline’s coal mines in West Virginia and Illinois have been cited for over 8,000 federal safety violations since 2004,” reports Of the 8,000, over 2,300 were ‘significant and substantial’ violations with the potential for injury, illness and death.”

Soon after mining was restarted at Donkin, Global News reported that “a top official, helping to open the new Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton, has resigned from the project after questions were raised by media regarding his involvement in a 2010 U.S. mining disaster that killed 29 miners.”:

After months of investigating management behind the Donkin Project, 16×9 learned that former Performance Coal Company President Chris Blanchard was part of a team working to help set up the Donkin project.

Blanchard was the president of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia leading up to one of deadliest mining explosion in recent U.S. history.

Blanchard’s former boss, the CEO of Massey Energy Don Blankenship, was sentenced April 6, 2016 to one year in federal prison for conspiring to willfully violate mine health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine.

Blanchard cut a deal with West Virginia prosecutors and was given immunity to testify against his former boss.

In its decision, the court cited Blanchard’s testimony describing a culture of pushing production over safety at Upper Big Branch and an “understanding” that “it was more profitable to violate safety standards and pay the resulting fines than to reduce production.”

During his testimony, Blanchard denied breaking the law, but admitted his company was cited for hundreds of violations, most of which were preventable.

Donkin is a disaster waiting to happen.

2. Ice

Careful on the #Halifax sidewalks, fellow walkers. Some of those bad boys are a sheet of ice. (Brunswick/Sackville & Gottingen/Portland) pic.twitter.com/G9sbzZGFT2

— Graeme Benjamin (@GlobalGraeme) January 2, 2019

I don’t want to write about this. Go read what Zane Woodford and Alicia Draus have to say about it.

But of course I will write about it…

I grew up in a mythical land where people could walk down the street without their feet slipping out from under them — like, it never happened; the ground was solid and my feet held firm, and never did I worry that the two could lose meaningful contact. But then I moved to a place where people purposefully seek out places where feet and ground don’t hold firm, where they build arenas where the lack of holding firm is celebrated by two groups of people slipping and sliding around and beating each other up while doing so.

So I guess I wasn’t conditioned for yesterday’s sidewalk conditions. There I was, penguin-walking at a snail’s pace (pardon the mixed animal metaphor) over a treacherous stretch of the Robie Street sidewalk, and people who grew up in this strange land were just zooming around me as if this were perfectly normal. The hell with it, I said to myself, and took the bus.

In December 2013, I slipped and fell on a pedestrian island at the corner of Gottingen and North Streets and broke my wrist. And then came the winter of hell, January through March of 2015, when the entire city was one ice sheet. I still have mental scars from it.

That winter, I vowed to at least clear the ice from the sidewalk in front of my house, so I went out with my pick axe and sliced through the six inches of ice to hit bare cement. It was one of the few stretches of sidewalk in the entire city not covered with ice — with the notable exception of the sidewalks at Dalhousie University; I compiled a photo essay comparing the horrendous sidewalks the city maintains to the sidewalks Dal maintains. Here are two examples from that essay:

The sidewalk outside Halifax City Hall on February 24, 2015. Photo: Halifax Examiner
The same day, a sidewalk on the Dalhousie campus. Photo: Halifax Examiner

I was at Dal yesterday, and the sidewalks were again perfectly clear.

So how is it that Dalhousie can keep its sidewalks free of ice and the city can’t?

This came up in a Twitter exchange I had with councillor Waye Mason:

They pay I have hear almost triple what HRM pays.

— Waye Mason 🇺🇦 (@WayeMason) January 2, 2019

Well, then we have a baseline for what it costs to do the job correctly by contracting out. We either pay the money to do the job right, or we “save” and endanger pedestrians and piss everyone off. Or, we don’t contract out and tell residents to take care of it.

— Tim Bousquet (@Tim_Bousquet) January 2, 2019

This is all Linda Mosher’s fault.

Sure, that’s a bit unfair — when it was the law to do so, lots of residents failed to clear the sidewalks in front of their houses. But after then-councillor Mosher successfully shepherded through a new policy having the city take over clearing the sidewalks, almost no resident did so, and the city failed at the job. The situation got worse, not better.

The suburban-urban conflict on council is often overstated, but here’s one clear example of it. Mosher lives on a lightly trod street on top of a hill in Armdale. There are maybe three or four dog walkers that pass by all day, but that’s about it; everyone else drives to work, pretty much. It really is a pain in the ass to go shovel for three assholes who won’t even pick up their dog’s shit. It makes sense to pay for the city to do it.

On the peninsula and in downtown Dartmouth, however, there are a hundred thousand people using the sidewalks to commute. The sidewalk is more important than the road for commuters. Last I checked, something like 60 per cent of people in the south end either walk or take the bus (which involves at least some walking) for their commute.

One way to look at this is that the sidewalks are so important that the city should be responsible for clearing them. In a perfect world, yes. But we don’t live in that perfect world. I mean, clearly. The experiment has failed, repeatedly.

We should go back to requiring residents to clear the sidewalks in front of their houses, and — especially — to make business owners responsible for clearing the walks in the business districts. (I’ve never understood why any retail shop would let the ice build up outside their business; that just scares customers away. But there it is.) Increase enforcement to make sure that’s done, increase fines, and budget a large amount to pay people to clear for the elderly and disabled, and importantly, to clear intersections.

Intersections are the worst. All the competing plows deposit their dregs at the intersections, turning the most heavily travelled part of the pedestrian commute into the most badly maintained. It takes people with shovels to get out and clear them.


Government

No public meetings this week.


On campus

No public events this week.


In the harbour

05:00: Grande Halifax, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Baltimore
06:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
08:00: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, sails from anchorage for sea
11:30: Grande Halifax sails for sea
12:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre


Footnotes

Another light news day. Maybe some scandal will happen today.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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19 Comments

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  1. I hope everyone remembers the debate about core services when council decides to funnel tax money for stadium construction.

  2. As with many issues relating to quality of life, we shouldn’t abstract inadequate snow/ice removal from the macroeconomic causes of urban deterioration in the western world. We live in a rich country; if the basic needs of citizens are not being met, and cities becoming less liveable, we need to look at the underlying causes. Poor sidewalk conditions are just one symptom of a much deeper malaise. If there aren’t resources available in a Canadian city for something as basic as sidewalk maintenance in winter, that’s ultimately a result of the f*cked up priorities that define neoliberalism, the state religion. We should avoid accepting the arbitrary constraints on public spending dictated by this religion as a given, and then debating the best way to solve the problem within those parameters, as I feel you are doing in this case, Tim.

  3. If HRM clears the streets, it should clear the sidewalks as well. There is no reason that the taxes that we all pay should only subsidize the snow and ice removal for cars. Even drivers and mass transit users walk and sidewalks are clearly part of the public realm that should be cared for by the city. I lived a good part of my life in a US city where ice was a perpetual winter problem and the city cleared the sidewalks. This is not a problem that is unique to Halifax. So I think it is time for our councilors to “man” or “Woman” up and deal with the problem by clearing the sidewalks.

  4. Parker’s solution to the ice problem: Hey, it’s snows here, so let’s just give up. In fact, we know that most winters in Halifax, it will either rain, turn to ice, freeze, then snow. Or it’ll snow, turn to rain, then freeze and turn to ice. This happens almost every winter here, so I guess we should give up. Just tell everyone to stay off the sidewalks. Or maybe we should have designated walking areas. Pedestrians can walk on the cleared roads until they reach a designated ice-free sidewalk zone. (Those will also reserved for smoking, so we can get the most bang for our buck.)

    Or maybe we could start coming up with an alternative solution—like sand? A friend of mine mentioned that sand is used in Saint John, NB now. It worked wonders in Montana when I lived there. I’ve been tempted to walk around Halifax with a bucket of this stuff, gritting the path for myself as I go. Anyone know the cost and feasibility of using sand? If we’re going to give up the thought of clearing the ice, at least we can add some traction. (Not sure how well this solution works with wheelchairs, though).

    1. I guess if you have no adequate rebuttal, creating a fictional straw man is the next best thing, but for the record, I did not say and do not believe we should, “just give up on sidewalk clearing.”

      On the contrary, I think councilors should do their jobs and insist that sidewalk clearing crews carry out their work competently, as they did for many years in Dartmouth prior to amalgamation.

      If certain councilors weren’t so busy dreaming up ideological social engineering projects designed to forcibly remake Haligonians in their own, moralistic, kale-eating, marijuana-eschewing, winter-bike-riding images, they might have time to tend to normal city business—like seeing that sidewalks are cleared.

    2. Sand is used heavily in cities where the temperature routinely drops below where salt is effective (Edmonton, for example). There are challenges: it isn’t water soluble so has to be cleaned up in Spring; not removing ice impairs accessibility; etc.

      I would be curious how it performs in our repeated thaw-freeze cycles. I would expect the sand would drop below the ice (water) surface and freeze over. Might be worth a pilot somewhere…

  5. Before amalgamation – now there’s an invitation to be attacked by folks from The Other Side (Halifax). Anyway, before amalgamation, Dartmouth side walks were always cleared and salted within minutes of the last snowflake landing. Sidewalks were so beautifully clear, you would have sworn they were heated from underneath. On those rare occasions when a small section of sidewalk was left untreated for more than an hour, people just picked up the phone and in no time flat, Mayor MacCluskey would personally show up on one of those little sidewalk machines that plowed and salted at the same time. Snow and Ice was just not an issue and life over here was perfect.

    And then Amalgamation happened. The good people of the former Halifax heard about our sidewalks and started screaming, “we want what they have!” So the new mega-city put out tenders for sidewalk clearing and anyone with good enough credit, bought a Bobcat and started destroying front yards and tearing off front steps all over the Peninsula, while not really removing the snow or ice down to the bare concrete. Gloria only showed up with a Bobcat if the snow was deeper than two or three feet.

  6. Two comments re icy sidewalks. The last couple of years on my side street in downtown Dartmouth the street plough goes by too fast and sprays road slush back onto what was often a fairly well cleared sidewalk, undoing the good work. And on Hollis Street in Halifax Wednesday I walked gingerly over a few understandable bits of ice caused by melt runoff. Then near the corner of Hollis and Morris (not the building on the corner where sidewalk was pristine) there was a sheet of ice such that I had to get myself into the roadway in order to proceed. I’ve noted this property is singularly uncaring about the condition of the sidewalk.
    Clearing the sidewalk should be a joint responsibility. If water flows into the sidewalk and freezes, rather than waiting a day or more for the city to get around with the salt cart, the property owner or renter should get out there with at least a little sand an/or salt so passersby are not at extra risk.

  7. Thank you for drawing attention to safety worries about the Donkin Mine. Given Nova Scotia’s recent, dreadful experience with the potential for disaster in coal mining, this situation deserves the closest possible scrutiny from mine regulators. This is a case where “regulatory capture” can easily prove fatal.

    A larger question is why, with all we know about the evils inherent in the mining and burning of coal, we allowed a coal mine to open here in the 21st century.

  8. If some huge boondoggle sucks up a ton of taxpayer money, the optics are that it’s “creating jobs” and so we mostly ignore the effects on our taxes, or don’t even realize it raises our taxes. If necessary snow clearing costs go up to provide better service then it’s news, because you can’t hide costs for necessary services, and the optics are that the city is TAKING OUR MONEY and that’s just not what good politicians do.

    Contracting the service out is another way to shuffle blame away from the city. Even though having in-house snow clearing would likely be more efficient for probably around the same cost, the city would have to accept blame for anything that went wrong, which again is bad optics. Better to avoid the appearance of responsibility and shuffle through equally unqualified contractors every few years when they can’t deal with the weather conditions.

    As it currently stands I just shovel our sidewalk as soon as I can, because by the time the sidewalk plows come by they end up packing down the already solidified snow and make things worse. So we have the worst of both worlds: paying taxes for a service while still having to do their job like before when there was no city sidewalk plowing.

  9. News flash: Nova Scotia has a problem that Chico, California, and Norfolk, Virginia, do not: Winter. Snow falls five months a year here, often quickly and heavily.

    The idea that, in some longed-for Nirvana, the snow all magically vanished from Halifax sidewalks in a collective, pre-dawn frenzy of citizen action is risible. Snow clearing was horrible when it depended on individual property owners for the simple reason that legitimate (or not so legitimate) real life factors (work schedule, illness, age, infirmity, disability, depression, laziness, whatever) often prevented them from getting to the task in a timely manner. The resulting patchwork of cleared and uncleared, snow-packed, icy sections that made foot travel difficult.

    It would be hard to imagine a task better suited for government. If government (or it’s contractors) aren’t doing the job well, maybe councillors should spend less time banning pot and tabacco and more time ensuring core municipal services are competently executed.

    Even with competently executed snow-clearing service, Halifax Examiner readers may be astonished to learn snow will not vanish from sidewalks instantaneously. Winter’s a bitch that way.

  10. The clearing of snow and ice from municipal streets should be done by the municipality. I lived under the Statutory Labour system in Ontario in three different cities, and it simply doesn’t work to expect property owners to clear snow and ice.

    Some can’t, many won’t. And how do you determine who can’t, and how do you help them, and at what cost? It is nearly impossible to police it through bylaw enforcement in any effective way – that’s hard to do in a small town, let alone a city. You never have enough officers to do it, and there is a cost to that of taking people to court. And as stated above, it is complaint driven. By that time, you may already have fallen.

    Also, even able-bodied conscientious people can’t be there to look after the situation 24/7 – the problem may arise while they are at work, or out of town, or in the middle of the night. In my experience, this always leads to some parts of the sidewalk being nice and clear, and others impassible. Then there are the sidewalks past vacant lots or empty buildings, the owners of which may be miles away.

    The Statutory Labour system is inefficient and unfair. It is an obsolete 19th century concept, used in former days when farmers were dragooned into repairing the roads in their locality via statutory requirements. In most places, the requirement to clear the sidewalks is also a relic of that era too.

    It is fairer and more efficient and I believe ultimately cheaper both for citizens and municipalities to do this through their property tax contributions (remembering that tenants also pay property tax indirectly, through their rent, and at a higher rate than homeowners)

    Where I live now, this is handled by municipal crews. I don’t have to worry about coming home tired, with my bad shoulder and iffy heart, and clearing the sidewalk, nor do pedestrians have to worry about the sidewalk in front of my building not being cleared of snow and ice in my absence or disability. During the last storm we had here, the crews cleaned and gritted the sidewalk twice. They usually pass by early in the morning too, to make sure the sidewalks are clear for children walking to school.

    In addition, in the case of an injury due to a fall, it is the municipality which pays, not the homeowner. I don’t know the law in Nova Scotia, but when I lived in Ontario attempts by municipalities to third-party the adjacent landowner for reimbursement of damages paid to injured people were tossed out. The courts ruled that the law stated the municipalities were responsible for the repair of the highways, which includes clearing sidewalks, and the law didn’t provide for them to pass this responsibility on to others. I fell on a icy Windsor sidewalk and hurt myself. Guess who paid me — it wasn’t the owner of the high rise which didn’t grit the sidewalk in front of it on a holiday.

    I’ve lived under both systems and there isn’t any doubt in my mind which is the better of the two. Statutory Labour is an outdated, hillbilly-ish concept, like fighting fires with neighbourhood bucket brigades or catching thieves through hue-and-cry. You may as well expect people to dig out the fire hydrants, or fill the potholes in front of their houses. Sidewalks are part of the highways, they are public infrastructure, and should be dealt with publicly through public tax contributions. If it hasn’t worked well in the past, then try organizing it better so that it does work.

    That said, if I owned a business and the sidewalk out front for whatever reason was snowy or icy, yeah, I’d handle it…and then forward a complaint to the municipality to get with the program.

    Apropos of nothing, in that photo of the Donkin Mine you see a cove – I believe called Schooner Cove — and a headland. That headland is an amazing place for those giant fern ‘tree’ fossils found in that part of Cape Breton. When I was there I found one fossil of almost an entire trunk. Of course, one must look only — no taking.

    1. ” I don’t have to worry about coming home tired, with my bad shoulder and iffy heart, and clearing the sidewalk, nor do pedestrians have to worry about the sidewalk in front of my building not being cleared of snow and ice in my absence or disability. ”

      i want to move to your neighbourhood…..

  11. Blaming Linda Mosher for the sidewalk issue is, as you said, completely unfair. She doesn’t even have a sidewalk in front of her home and she did a good thing for Armdale residents at the time. My street, St Margaret’s Bay Road, was even worse before the city took it over. Going back to having the residents ‘responsible’ would be madness for this street. You might as well ask the residents to clear their portion of the road while you’re at it. One problem that is rarely mentioned is the city’s insistence on fixed price contracts for an activity that is clearly not fixed price. Another problem is that the contractors rarely have the right equipment for all situations.

  12. “We should go back to requiring residents to clear the sidewalks in front of their houses, and — especially — to make business owners responsible for clearing the walks in the business districts.”

    Hear hear! I didn’t do in front of my house the other day because I still foolishly believe that the city will figure out how to do it properly. And my sidewalk, and most of our street, is hell.

    This is an experiment that has failed.

    1. Sidewalk ice was just as bad before the change. Legislation isn’t magic. You have to have competent people implementing it.

  13. This is the only story that will be published in Canada today that refers to falling down on ice and is not about the IIHL World Juniors Tournament.

  14. Ice! Well I don’t think holding landlords and business operators responsible is the answer. First of all the process is totally complaint driven and we know people are unlikely to complain. Rather they will soldier on on the icy sidewalks — unless they have a bad fall. I think if the problem is money, we need to spend more to keep the sidewalks and bus stops cleared. Most ratepayers would spend an extra $20 or $30 a year to have ice free sidewalks. When you consider the cost of trips to the emergency (which we all pay for) and time off work (which individuals have to pay for especially since many in retail have no sick pay), it’s well worth clearing the ice.