MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian environment centre throws strong doubt on coal project

Published by MAC on 2010-09-05
Source: Vancouver Sun, Comox Valley Echo (2010-08-20)

British Columbia's University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre has warned that a planned new underground coal mine on Vancouver Island could leach toxic effluent, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc.

Already, the only existing coal mine on the island displays arsenic content "as much as 30 times above provincial water quality guidelines".

According to the Centre the proposed Raven mine is "the first phase of an ambitious development that could later expand to exploit an estimated 100 million tonnes of coal on the Island's eastern slope".

Coal mine prompts environmental concerns

Comox Valley would be transformed into a grimy, industrial 'mini-Appalachia,' warns University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre

By Stephen Hume

Vancouver Sun

18 August 2010

A coal mine proposal, which some fear could be the first step in transforming Vancouver Island's Comox Valley into a grimy, industrial "mini-Appalachia," threatens some of British Columbia's most productive and successful shellfish aquaculture and requires a full federal-provincial environmental assessment, says the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre.

The Raven mine proposed for Buckley Bay would be the first phase of an ambitious development that could later expand to exploit an estimated 100 million tonnes of coal on the Island's eastern slope.

But the Environmental Law Centre warns that in addition to oyster farms, the mine could also put at risk public health, municipal drinking water, regional air quality and the habitat of at least seven blue-listed species.

Furthermore, it argues, the proposal has now created such widespread anxiety in Comox Valley communities which trade upon the natural beauty of their region that full public participation in any independent environmental assessment is essential.

So far, Compliance Coal Corporation's proposed Raven mine is subject to an internal environmental assessment by provincial bureaucrats, the Environmental Law Centre says.

"This internal government process cannot be adequate to assess the issues raised by the proposed mine," it says in a 25-page letter to both federal and provincial governments obtained by The Vancouver Sun.

The Environmental Law Centre provides research and legal advocacy on environmental issues it deems in the public interest.

Located near Buckley Bay, south of Comox, the Raven underground mine would extract high quality metallurgical coal used in steel industry blast furnaces.

Its full extent below ground would cover roughly the same area as 5,000 football fields and would involve the watersheds of three creeks and a river draining into Baynes Sound between Denman Island and Vancouver Island about 70 kilometres northwest of Nanaimo.

There's a long history of coal mining in the region. Since the late 19th century, Cumberland, Nanaimo, Wellington and Ladysmith have had more than a dozen underground operations -- and some of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history.

One surface mine is now active near Campbell River.

However, the total development now envisaged could stretch from Buckley Bay to Campbell River.

It could later involve strip mining of deposits to extract lower grade coal for burning in thermal electrical generation plants.

In a letter to federal and provincial environment ministers Jim Prentice and Barry Penner, and to Andrew Rollo of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, with copies to federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl, the Environmental Law Centre warns that the process for assessing the present proposal's environmental impact is inadequate considering the magnitude of risk.

It requests that Prentice refer an environmental assessment of the Raven mine proposal to a joint federal-provincial review panel of independent experts with full public hearings.

And it asks Penner to ensure the environmental assessment is carried out by the same panel conducting those public hearings.

"The proposed coal mine has profound implications for the environment and future of mid-Vancouver Island, and therefore requires this most thorough form of public participation and review," the letter says.

It cites a recent administrative fiasco at a proposed gold and copper mine project near Williams Lake in which the province relied upon an internal review by civil servants without holding full public hearings.

The province concluded any adverse environmental impacts from the mine could be mitigated, only to later be embarrassed by an independent federal review panel which determined the project would not only have serious adverse environmental impacts but that they could not be mitigated by the proposed measures.

The Environmental Law Centre says that federal panel noted serious deficiencies in the B.C. government's internal approach, in particular that the province had ignored federal agency reports warning about effects on water quality, fish, migratory birds and human health. It also observed that the province had ignored "extremely valuable" evidence from first nations.

In the case of the Buckley Bay mine proposal, "full public hearings conducted by independent experts are necessary to reassure the people of Vancouver Island that similar deficiencies will not arise in the assessment of the current project proposal," the Environmental Law Centre says.

Among the most serious concerns the letter mentions is a potential for acid mine drainage from exposed and waste rock during the mining process. Toxic effluent leached from rocks can include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc.

The letter details other examples of acid mine drainage and the environmental consequences for B.C. taxpayers.

Britannia mine near Squamish later required a $30-million water treatment centre to deal with pollution from the former underground copper mine which adversely affected millions of migrating juvenile salmon, it says, while Equity Silver mine near Houston required cleanup facilities that may have to be maintained for centuries after seriously damaging adjacent fisheries.

An open pit copper mine on Mount Washington near Courtenay operated for only four years but "utterly devastated" a multimillion-dollar fishery in the Tsolum River that included stocks of rainbow, steelhead and cutthroat trout, coho, pink and chum salmon. It required an outlay of $4.5 million in public money in attempting to mitigate the consequences.

Recent studies have found high levels of arsenic and sulphates in lakes surrounding the only operating coal mine on Vancouver Island, the Environmental Law Centre says.

In some places, the letter says, arsenic levels around the Quinsam Coal Mine near Campbell River are as much as 30 times above provincial water quality guidelines.

"Of particular concern for the local shellfish industry, the study also found that freshwater mussels placed in the lake accumulated arsenic in their tissues. Residents are concerned that the kind of contamination at Quinsam could happen with the Raven Underground Coal Project, which is located very near Baynes Sound's large commercial shellfish beds."

Baynes Sound is the site of extensive commercial oyster-growing operations worth $9 million a year and employing 600 people.

"The B.C. Shellfish Growers Association has expressed extreme concern about the potential environmental impacts of the proposed mine," the letter says.

Shellfish operators want immediate comprehensive studies of the aquatic impact of any toxic run-off including the cost of lost shellfish production in the area, says the UVic body.

Other concerns expressed in the letter include:

The letter says worry about these issues has generated widespread public anxiety throughout the region. It says five municipalities also want a full federal environmental assessment.

Residents of Denman Island on Baynes Sound and the Islands Trust Council have expressed concern.

"Citizens are concerned that the Comox Valley will be transformed into a Coal Valley where their health and environment will be compromised, their roads rendered unsafe and the local shellfish industry devastated," the Environmental Law Centre's letter says.

"Residents are concerned that approval of the mine could permanently change the use and enjoyment of a substantial part of Vancouver Island."

It seems to me that on the basis of such concerns the Environmental Law Centre makes a reasonable case.

Whether you are in favour of coal mine development or against it, the public interest demands that a project of such scope and potential impact be subjected to the full and objective scrutiny of an independent arm's length environmental assessment.

If there's no problem, people deserve to be reassured.

If there is a problem, people deserve to know.

Premier Gordon Campbell and the Liberals came to power in 2001 promising the most open and transparent government we'd ever had, so what could be the objection to a full vetting of this proposed project by arm's-length experts with public hearings to let those who will be most affected have their say in the shaping of policy?


Coal mine threatens the Island

By Marc Gaudreau

Comox Valley Echo

20 August 2010

As time passes, we draw nearer to the possibility of MORE coal mining returning to Vancouver Island. The company pushing to do so (Compliance) is preaching all the positives that their proposed Raven coal mine can bring, the negatives are barely mentioned. Our provincial government is likely in full support of not only this potential new mine, but many others in BC as well. It is well documented that our government has basically supported as much as 99% of all mines that have applied for a permit throughout history.

Our provincial politicians are promoting B.C. as a "green" province at the same time they support new coal mines, arguably the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. It won't sully their 'green' stats because it won't actually be used here, but likely in Asia where emission standards are not considered high.

It's depressing to note that people who live next door to this proposed mine are accused of being NIMBY'S for voicing their concerns, when in fact those accused actually understand the situation's magnitude.

It is necessary that Islanders understand the initial 'Raven' mine is only the first of more coal mines in and around the Comox Valley. The writing is on the wall, if Compliance is allowed a permit for the Raven mine, there will be more soon to follow and rumored to be open pit coal mines.

These future mines could be within single digit kilometers of communities like Union Bay, Royston, Cumberland, Black Creek, or any other community near the areas Compliance owns the rights to. Check their website for yourself. So I remind those that cry out NIMBY, the people that are concerned with the Raven mine are in fact fighting the cause in advance for you. I believe the proper acronym would be NIYBY, not in your back yard, or NIABY, not in anybody's backyard.

A few short term jobs for locals, so already well-heeled individuals can make huge profits which do not go back into the local area just don't outweigh the risks associated with mining (not even taking into consideration the dangers to the miners themselves). Many believe, in this day and age, that we should be able to mine without damage to the environment, but, show me a mine, any mine, anywhere in the world, that has yet to NOT cause adverse affects during and after its existence.

Yes, they can make us all feel better by showing all those trees they replanted to cover up the damage, but hey, are we all that naïve to believe that permanent damage has not been done? We are talking about our most important resources - water and air.

Show us, I mean really show us a mine that has Not created damage. The Quinsam coal mine claims they are not responsible for increased arsenic levels, and they can continue to deny it, and that in and of itself is enough for them not to take any responsibility for any long or short term consequences. The public will almost always foot the bill for the clean up after the serious damage has occurred.

People of Vancouver Island, we have such a magnificent place to live, and its very existence is being put up for destruction by those who can't clearly understand how important it really is. The public input period has commenced. I ask all of us to take a stand, write a letter, participate and support the right to freely express our concern. Time is running out.

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