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Clearwater County invests in restoring historic Nordegg mine site

Clearwater County to spend about $1 million in 2024 for mine site project

Clearwater County council agreed to spend more than $1 million next year as part of an ongoing project to preserve a Nordegg mine site as a major heritage attraction.

ISL Engineering and Land Services Ltd. has been doing geotechnical and structural assessments of the numerous structures that remain at the Brazeau Collieries Mine Site, including three nearby rail trestle bridges. Council approved $200,000 in its 2024 budget for the second phase of that work.

As well, $800,000 was approved to restore two of the three trestles, which are already being used informally as part of a local trail system. Restoring the third trestle, which is in the worst condition, would be done in 2025 at an estimated cost of around $800,000.

Council also agreed to provide funds for the first phase of a mine virtual reality tour project expected to cost $30,000 to $50,000.

ISL was first hired by the county in 2021 to assess the mine site, which was falling into disrepair, largely because of water erosion to the foundations of site structures.

Work was done to repair the most pressing issues and the tour route was changed to avoid areas with structural issues. That allowed tours to start up again and 1,800 visitors joined 200 tours that ran from May long weekend and until the September long weekend. The goal is to expand on the tours and restore buildings so more can be opened up to visitors.

The mine, which supplied coal for steam trains, began operating around 1911 and was decommissioned in 1955.

Over the decades, water and snow melt running down the steep mine site have eaten away at building foundations, ISL consultant Richard Collumbine told council in a presentation on Monday. “A lot of repairs will be foundation-based.”

Matt Martinson, county director of agriculture and community services, said ISL’s work can be used to develop a list of projects and the county can then pursue grants and partnerships to undertake them.

Reeve Daryl Lougheed said he was “shocked at the condition of that site after being, essentially, abandoned for almost 70 years. (It’s) in remarkable condition. I think it’s great we have a resource there.”

Coun. Neil Ratcliffe said “I have heard strongly from the community the preservation of this site is. I’m thrilled to see the progress so far.”

Past councils have been criticized for not doing enough to preserve the mine site, he said. “I think it’s time for action.”

Coun. Gennifer Mehlhaff said the potential for virtual reality tours is enormous. It might be possible to record video deep down mine shafts in areas where people will never be able to safely visit and include them as part of a virtual reality experience.

“If we could video some of those and create an immersive experience to actually be able to tour the mine, I just think it’s limitless to what could be achieved.

“I’m also excited about the trestles and how they could tie into some of the other trail initiatives that Clearwater County is working on.”

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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