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Priestly demo of diamond mine a ‘middle of nowhere’ job

Ian Harvey
Priestly demo of diamond mine a ‘middle of nowhere’ job
SUBMITTED PHOTO—Priestly Demolition crews and equipment had to be flown in on a Hercules aircraft for the De Beers Canada Victor diamond mine project in northern Ontario.

The crews at Priestly Demolition often work in tight spaces and downtown traffic congestion but a recent project had new challenges: no traffic, no people and wide-open spaces.

As president Ryan Priestly explains, the De Beers Canada Victor diamond mine was “literally in the middle of nowhere” and some 500 kilometres from Timmins in northern Ontario with no access road.

“We had to fly in the crews and the equipment on a Hercules aircraft,” he says. “We took our own high reach shears, a couple of extractors, a shredder and a scale (to weigh the scrap in preparation for shipping it south for recycling when the ice road — which was decommissioned when they were working on site — is rebuilt at some future point).

“We also adapted some of the equipment they had up there and had been using on the mining,” he says, such as the huge rock trucks and front-end loaders.

After landing the job in summer 2019 they scoped and planned it out through the fall and went up and did some preliminary work.

“The good news was that we had time to make a plan. Sometimes you don’t get time, you get the job on a Thursday and they want you to start on a Monday. What was nice was we got the job in the summer and had time to schedule and plan.”

When they did start up in early 2020 because a spell of warmer weather opened up in January, they were almost immediately hit with a COVID stoppage in March.

“We were all fine up there but the issue was if someone did get sick how would we deal with it, so we shut down for two months,” he says of the crews flying in and out on a twin engine commuter plane. Worked resumed by summer and wound up by fall 2020.

The project was nominated for a World Demolition Award — an honour Priestly has won four times before — but while they made the short list they didn’t win the price.

They won the demolition contract as part of the closure plan for the De Beers mine which had reached the end of it’s life cycle after just 11 years, right on schedule.

The $1 billion mine contributed more than $6.7 billion in cumulative GDP to Ontario since opened in 2008. The total contract for the remediation of the site, filling in the open pit mine and restoring the land is about $32 million and is being managed by Golders. It includes adding to the 1.2 million trees planted since 2014 and will wrap up sometime in 2023.

Priestly hired a Hercules cargo plane and shipped their equipment up and then put together two crews each working and living on site in the camp structures originally created for De Beers workers.

“At one point they had 400 people working the mine but we had 10 to 15 people at a time and up to 25 at other times,” says Priestly.

“We had some Attawapiskat (about 100 kilometres away) First Nations people but a lot of them have other jobs because they fly in and out. So, we had people from across Canada including Newfoundland and people who had worked at the mine. They were good because they had created a culture up there and they know the routine. People were always smiling in the hallways. It was good.”

The site sits on muskeg so it’s soft ground and there are no trees around. The landscape is almost alien, like a Martian surface and there’s nowhere to go for a walk or do anything, Priestly says.

It was also cold in winter with a cutting wind.

“When it was really cold we would work inside,” he says. “We had the cutting torches going and if you got really cold there was a building there with heat you could go into to warm up a bit.”

They brought their own mechanics with them and often had to figure out repairs on the fly, he says.

“It’s not like you can call for parts or back up so you have to figure it out,” he says.

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