Quebec group rallies to save abandoned mine threatened with demolition

MONTREAL - A "spectacular" abandoned mine in western Quebec has become so popular with tourists the provincial government is considering demolishing it, says a citizens group.

The abandoned Wallingford-Back mine has long been popular with visitors who illicitly come to swim or paddle in the turquoise waters of its lake or admire the imposing stone colums of the interior.

But due to a recent surge in tourists, Quebec's Energy and Natural Resources Department has asked the regional municipality to recommend one of two scenarios: either develop the mine as a tourist site, or "secure the site" by demolishing it.

The head of a group that hopes to save the mine says the location has become "a victim of its own beauty."

"It's really spectacular," Chantal Crete said in an interview. "It's filled with turquoise water, and when the sun reflects off the rocky pillars it's just dazzling. It's hard to believe we have something this beautiful so close to us."

The former quartz and feldspar mine closed in 1972.

Crete says news articles, photos and videos of the mine shared on social media have led to an increase in the number of visitors, who have become a security risk and a nuisance in the small town of Mulgrave-et-Derry, about 70 kilometres northeast of Ottawa.

Because the mine is closed, it does not have garbage cans or bathrooms, and visitors' parked cars regularly block the only narrow road that leads to the mine, Crete says.

Her group has launched a petition to try to persuade the government to step in and develop the site as a proper tourist attraction.

"It makes no sense to destroy such a beautiful site that represents such a huge potential because we can't solve a traffic problem," she said.

A spokesman for the Energy and Natural Resources Department confirmed it had asked the regional municipality to choose between demolishing and developing the mine.

Securing the site would mean "ensuring the vaults would no longer be accessible by dynamiting the surface pillars," Sylvain Carrier said in an email.

Developing a recreational project would involve creating a working group to create a viable business plan and taking on the legal and financial responsiblities of securing the site.

"The (department) has asked the regional stakeholders to inform it of which option they wish to favour," Carrier wrote. "The department has also offered to assist them to put in place a round table for a tourist project."

He said the site is currently dangerous, with risks that include collapse, falling rocks, or drowning, as well as the parked vehicles that block emergency vehicle access.

But Crete's group says studies show the mine is structurally safe and that the other problems surrounding the site are manageable. She says a new road and parking lot could be built on publicly owned land that would provide better access without disturbing residents.

A petition launched last weekend already had more than 3,800 signatures, as of Friday, in favour of saving the mine.

The group of municipalities is expected to issue a recommendation in mid-October.

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