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Questions, opposition persists to coal mine overlooking Baynes Sound

A large crowd turned out Monday at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay to express concern about a proposed coal mine above Baynes Sound. - Scott Stanfield
A large crowd turned out Monday at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay to express concern about a proposed coal mine above Baynes Sound.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

Campbell Connor drew a round of applause by requesting a full expert panel review, along with aquifer mapping and modelling, as the environmental assessment phase of the proposed Raven underground coal mine progresses.

The vice-president of CoalWatch Comox Valley — part of a standing-room-only crowd that gathered Monday at the Filberg Centre for the first in a  series of public hearings about the mine — said a technical committee has compiled a list of "very serious gaps" in the process after reviewing the draft Application Information Requirements (AIR).

"The process we're going through at this moment is less than that which we deserve," Connor said.

"Overwhelmingly to date public comment has opposed the mine in its entirety," CoalWatch president John Snyder said. "We want to be ensured that public opposition to the mine is noted in the official record. No means no."

Representatives from the BC Environmental Assessment Office, Canada Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and project proponent Compliance Coal Corporation answered a barrage of questions from the partisan crowd. Andrew Rollo of the CEAA drew a chorus of boos when he said the project does not warrant referral to a panel review.

Compliance CEO John Tapics said full aquifer mapping is being conducted. Early indications show no ill effects on groundwater, added Tapics, who figures the amount of water used to wash the coal would be about equal to a medium-sized hotel. Most of the water used in the operation would be recycled, likely coming from a groundwater source.

The mine is in the pre-application stage. The Raven coal deposit covers about 3,100 hectares in Baynes Sound adjacent to Buckley Bay. The coal is classified as high volatile A Bituminous, which Compliance says is suitable for the metallurgical market. Tapics said a feasibility study indicates the underground mine would leave a "small surface footprint."

Opponents say the mine poses a threat to air and water quality, and to salmon habitats and the shellfish industry in Fanny Bay. Polluting the Cowie Creek watershed is another concern, as is trucking coal along the Inland Highway to Port Alberni. Tapics said about one ship would leave the port each month.

Mike Morel, a biologist from Denman Island, suggests the study area is too small and should include, at minimum, all Raven streams and wetlands.

Rudy Friesen said coal burned overseas will produce about two million tons of carbon dioxide a year while the Raven mine operates.

Robert McDonald said coal gas methane would have an even greater impact on climate change and global warming.

"Climate change is the most pressing issue for my generation," said Victoria's Cameron Gray, a member of the Wilderness Committee. "How can you proceed in good faith knowing coal is the dirtiest of industries?"

His question garnered a standing ovation and spurred chants of 'No more coal.'

Rachel Shaw of the BC EAO said government, rather than making pre-determinations, considers the science and public opinion before making decisions.

"I absolutely oppose this mine," Diana Schroeder said. "Mr. Tapics, can you tell us how much mineral tax you will pay from the net profits?"

Tapics said the corporation and workers will pay "significant income tax" but no mineral tax will be paid because it is a privately owned resource.

The mine is expected to operate 16 years, and produce about 350 full-time jobs, 200 construction jobs and 400 to 500 spinoff jobs. Tapics said the average mining salary is about $100,000 a year.

Government says B.C.'s $6-billion mining industry helped power an economic recovery in 2010. Spurred by increased demand from China, B.C. increased steel-making metallurgical coal production by 20 per cent to about 26 million tons last year.

Additional public hearings on Raven Coal will be held Thursday at the Port Alberni Athletic Hall and Friday at the Union Bay Community Club.

The public has until June 27 to comment on the draft AIR and Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines. Visit www.eao.gov.bc.ca.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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