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Baynes Sound coal mine opposition called 'unprecedented'
Nearly 2,000 people submitted comments about the proposed Raven underground coal mine in Baynes Sound during the 30-day public comment period that ended Monday — an unprecedented number in a provincial environmental assessment process, says the Wilderness Committee.
"To the best of our knowledge only three times before has there been this level of public opposition — with the Bute Inlet Hydro project, the Glacier Howser Power Project and the Lodgepole Coal Mine — and all three of those projects are dead in the water," Tria Donaldson said in a news release. “The provincial government needs to be paying very close attention to this process, and be prepared to do the right thing for local communities and for the environment. The public has given a resounding ‘No’ to Raven Coal, now government has to act.”
Public meetings about the mine drew a combined total of about 1,500 people in Courtenay, Port Alberni and Union Bay.
The assessment office had posted nearly 1,900 comments so far this week. The Glacier Howser Private Power Project, which was the previous benchmark, had 1,100 comments posted. “The public sentiment is clear: We don’t want to risk clean water, the sustainable shellfish industry and quality of life for 16 years of a dirty coal mine,” Donaldson said. “From the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association to the Port Alberni and District Labour Council to the K’ómoks First Nation — a diverse group of organizations and people are standing against this project.”
In its history, the BC environmental assessment process has turned down just two projects, according to the Wilderness Committee.
Raven proponent Compliance Coal Corporation expects the mine would produce hundreds of construction and spinoff jobs, some paying six-figure salaries, during its 16-year life.
The final decision to approve or reject the proposal rests with Environment Minister Terry Lake. “We are looking for Minister Lake to take leadership on this file, and show that he will listen to the people of this province,” said Donaldson. “Ultimately, the provincial government has the power to stop this destructive project from going ahead.”
The coal mine is at the midway point of the assessment process. The next phase of public comments is expected to happen in 10 months to a year.
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Official Opposition Environment Critic Rob Fleming feels the project should be referred to a joint federal-provincial review panel.
The Victoria–Swan Lake MLA fears outstanding environmental questions may not be addressed under a comprehensive study.
"We submit that further information and study is required in order to adequately assess the potential environmental, socio-economic and human health implications related to this project," Fleming states in a news release. "By its own definition, a joint review panel would allow individuals to present evidence, concerns and recommendations at public hearings."
The Canada Environmental Assessment Agency has said the project does not warrant referral to a panel review.
Fleming feels further information is required on the mitigation of potential adverse impacts on the shellfish industry, air and water quality, fish habitats and other wildlife. Truck traffic and carbon emissions are also concerns.
Fleming supports a request of the Shellfish Growers Association that the proponent posts a bond that would compensate growers for lost income as a result of the development, if it is allowed to proceed.
"Since the inception of the project, thousands of local citizens and concerned British Columbians have petitioned the government to ensure that this project would receive the highest scrutiny possible," Fleming said. "Unfortunately, it has become clear that neither the minister of environment nor the minister of agriculture have ensured this."