The Nelson Curling Club has been shut down by an ammonia leak. Photo: Tyler Harper

UPDATED: Ammonia leak shuts down Nelson Curling Club

The club says it can’t afford to make repairs on its own

An ammonia leak has shut down the Nelson Curling Club.

Club president Gordon Wiess said inspectors found a pocket of ammonia underneath a layer of insulation during a mandatory examination of the rink’s refrigeration system Wednesday.

Wiess said no one was injured by the leak. A Valentine’s bonspiel scheduled for Friday was cancelled prior to the leak being made public, and Wiess said no curling will be played again before the season ends in March.

“Disappointing, no question. We’ve had more teams go to the provincial playoffs this year than we have the last couple of years. The percentage of new curlers is really, really positive,” said Wiess.

“We seemed to be moving in the right direction. All we want to do is curl and provide curling for the community and work on building and growing the sport. That’s what we want to do. We don’t want to operate an ammonia plant.”

It’s not clear where the leak originated. Weiss said the incident may necessitate the complete replacement of the plant, but couldn’t estimate how much that would cost.

An ammonia leak at a rink in Fernie killed three people in October 2017. Last year, the Nelson rink failed inspections by WorkSafe BC and Technical Safety BC, which at the time did not find an ammonia leak but determined the refrigeration plant was in need of repairs.

In October, the curling club requested operation of the plant be taken over by the Regional District of Central Kootenay.

“The operation of the plant, as you can imagine, is a fairly technical process that requires expertise, particularly because [ammonia is] known to be a dangerous material,” said Wiess at the time.

“I think it’s come to the point now, especially with the exposure and the attention it’s getting, it’s become apparent there are significant responsibilities and liabilities if anything should happen. As a volunteer organization, we feel we’re not confident and we’re not willing to carry that liability because we don’t have the same expertise that the RDCK has.”

The club’s rink was built in 1973 and purchased by the City of Nelson in 1994. The curling club stayed on as a tenant with a 20-year lease that made all building repairs the responsibility of the club.

But the club has operated without a lease since 2014 and has struggled financially for several years. It announced a nearly $20,000 loss at its annual general meeting in December.

Mayor John Dooley said he was relieved there were no injuries due to the leak, and the incident will make the building’s future a priority for city council. He acknowledged the topic is hardly new.

“Questions have been around mainly since the Midsummer Bonspiel ended [in 2008], but the curling club to their credit kept things alive and tried to keep things going and hopefully they’ll be able to survive this dilemma that they’re in now as well,” said Dooley.

Curling’s future in Nelson is also tied to the unanswered question of who exactly is responsible for the building.

Although the city owns the building, the lack of a lease means no one party is currently obligated for its upkeep. There is also the question of whether funding should come in part from the Regional District of Central Kootenay, because it has residents who also use the club.

Colin McLure, Nelson’s chief financial officer, said he doesn’t believe the city is responsible for the ice plant but that doesn’t preclude both parties working together to find a solution.

“The other question is, as sports have changed, is six sheets of ice the best use of that building? That becomes one of those questions we get to the community and find out. What about a climbing wall? What about a parkour place? What about squash? This may open it up to an opportunity to have a larger view of that building.”

For now, Wiess said the club can’t afford to fix the refrigeration plant on its own if it hopes to resume curling next October.

“We don’t want to manage, we don’t want to operate, we don’t want to be responsible for the ammonia plant,” he said.



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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