Summary of the November 15, 2011 Meeting with Lori Halls, Assistant Deputy Minister, B.C. Ministry of Environment

by Eric Ricker

In attendance: Lori Halls, Assistant Deputy Minister, BC Parks, John Hofman, FOMM Vice-President, Eric Ricker, FOMM director, in Victoria. Don Cadden, Regional Manager, BC Parks and Dave Foreman (BC Parks liason to FOMM Board of Directors) by speaker phone in Nanaimo.

Meeting: The meeting was held at FOMM's request. Our original aim had been to meet with the Minister, Terry Lake, but he was unavailable. We were referred to Lori Halls who had attended our August 20th event, and so had some familiarity with the site. The meeting had been originally scheduled for 30 minutes but extended to about 50 minutes.

For the first ten minutes we briefed Lori on the background to FOMM's efforts and the history of the park. During the next 30 minutes structural erosion problems and how they could be dealt with were reviewed in some detail. The balance of our time was devoted to presentation of our Site Development Plan, focusing upon needed changes and the addition of desired amenities.

Discussion: We made clear the urgency of the situation with regard to the present condition of Morden's structures and the unique status of Morden as a valuable heritage site.

The fact that nothing of significance had been done to develop the park or to protect its structures since the park's inception in 1972 was cited as the reason for its present state of deterioration (small Improvements in the form of a very desirable trail installation and limited signage being the only real changes since 1972). We pointed out that until then, all levels of governments had taken a pass on park improvements and only since 2003 has a formal advocacy group, Friends of Morden Mine (FOMM) been in place to champion the cause of the park.

John Hofman, FOMM's vice-president and a structural engineer, reviewed one of two engineering reports commissioned by FOMM relating to structural conditions of Morden's headframe and tipple: the 2005 MetroTesting report. While its findings were that Morden's structures were in immediate need of remediation, the conclusion was that they could be saved. That was also the finding of the other engineering report commissioned by FOMM.

A brief review of FOMM's site plan followed with various changes proposed briefly described along with probable overall costs. Relocation of the parking area, trail development, amphitheatre, and the interpretative centre were big ticket items in our site development plan in addition to the cost.

Costs: Special mention was made of the immediate need to fix the structures at a cost estimated in the site plan of $2 million and the possibility of tapping into the Island Coast Economic Trust fund (ICET) for some of those monies before that fund is wound up. As of summer 2011, ICET advised that $400,000 was now set as the maximum grant available with $3.00 of investment money required for every $1.00 of ICET funding. However, there appear to have been exceptions to the latter rule, with the $3.00 requirement not always insisted upon, and although it was not the original intention of ICET, some projects had been funded on the basis of government money rather than private funds constituting the investment amount.

Proposals: FOMM advanced the following propositions for consideration by BC Parks: FOMM is not in a position to fix the structure, given the urgency of the situation and monies required. We asked that the provincial government consider supporting an application to ICET for $400,000 by contributing $1.6 million (the required leverage amount). The combined total would then provide the estimated cost of fixing the head frame and tipple structures. If that request were accepted, FOMM would initiate a campaign to raise an additional $2 million from grant agencies and the private sector to complete the site development plan. This approach might even be considered a new model for provincial park development: i.e., support for park development and rehabilitation work on the basis of community contributions matching provincial government dollars up to some specified amount.

Conclusions: Lori Halls expressed a willingness to search for support at her level in BC Parks (there are two or three assistant deputy ministers) to see what might possibly be done to free up funds for Morden. She also allowed, in response to a question, that it would be useful for FOMM to see the Minister because the bureaucratic and political arenas are in some respects quite different.

She also indicated keen interest in the overall possibilities of the site, given the information we provided her about future Regional District of Nanaimo intentions to re-bridge the Nanaimo River at Morden, the recently approved housing projects that will assure population growth in the South Nanaimo area, and the handiness of the site to the Trans-Canada Highway.

She particularly wanted to know whether or not Morden could be connected to the Trans- Canada Trail and thus linked with the Kinsol Trestle, observing that the government wishes to pursue and support tourism opportunities as part of its economic recovery programme.

We had earlier in the meeting emphasized various roles for the site and its connecting trail system -- educational, recreational, heritage/tourist related - noting that these functions together possibly made Morden an even better candidate for funding than the very popular and recently completed Kinsol Trestle rehabilation project. We also cited surveys which have shown that about 30% of tourists plan their vacations with heritage sites in mind.

Comments: All in all, it was a good day for Morden, and possibly the first time it's had any higher level consideration since the 1970s. But it's only a first effort in what will almost surely have to become a campaign for support in government circles.