In an initial screening, the provincial Environmental Assessment Office has rejected the application from the proponents of the Raven underground coal mine proposal near Baynes Sound.
In a letter to Compliance Coal Corp. CEO John Tapics, the EAO refers to “major information requirements” it considers not to have been adequately addressed in the company’s submission. It has listed the missing information in its screening comments in a 114-page summary document.
Roberta Stevenson, executive director of the Comox-based BC Shellfish Growers’ Association, would like to know if Compliance has a time limit to resubmit.
“Is this open-ended or not? I can’t really tell,” she said. “But I can tell you four years into this, I personally would love it to be over with already.”
Throughout the provincial election, Stevenson reiterated that she hopes a rejection of the application is based on science, not politics.
“For me it isn’t what party you elect, rather it’s that there’s bad science. This is showing itself to truly be potentially not a good fit.”
She notes a lack of aquifer studies and scientific research — and a lack of social licence.
While the initial rejection is “great news,” Stevenson cautions against complacency until the mine proposal is dead in the water.
“This is not going away. Until we hear it’s done, we need to still pay attention.”
Half of the province’s shellfish aquaculture industry is in Baynes Sound. The BCSGA and others have expressed concern about the damage a mine overlooking the sound could cause to the water in which shellfish are grown.
The K’ómoks First Nation had not taken a stand on the mine because, as a new council, it wanted to ensure it was making the best decisions in the interests of its people, based on facts that came out of environmental assessments.
The KFN has participated in an environmental assessment working group.
“So, minimally, we had consultation happen,” band spokesperson Melissa Quocksister said this week.
Information from a traditional use study was provided to the Province to demonstrate how the KFN see their aboriginal rights being affected in the areas of aquaculture and archeology in Baynes Sound.
“Our biggest concerns were mostly the impacts on the water leading into Baynes Sound, specifically the Tsable River drainage system and the potential impacts on our aquaculture,” Quocksister said, noting potential impact on treaty settlement lands in the southern area.
“The underground mine comes right under our treaty settlement lands. What we wanted was for the proponents to be able to show us that the impacts could be mitigated, but they weren’t able to do that at that time.”
“A review of the screening comments seems to indicate significant gaps in the application, some of it having to do with public, First Nations and stakeholder consultation, hydrology issues and marine baseline studies,” CoalWatch president John Snyder said.
“There’s no doubt that public scrutiny and the concerns voiced by local governments, First Nations and stakeholders like the BC Shellfish Growers Association played a role in this decision by the EAO,” added Snyder. “While Compliance could decide to resubmit another application, this rejection by the EAO adds to an already significant headwind Compliance is facing in getting their project approved.”
CoalWatch plans to continue conducting research and raising concerns about the coal mine, and closely monitoring the environmental review process for future developments.
Tapics expects the mine will create about 350 full-time jobs and spinoff jobs. Estimates indicate the mine could operate 16 years.
Compliance spokesperson Candy-Lea Chickite said the company cannot comment other than to say:
“We are reviewing the screening comments from the EAO, which they enclosed within a 114-page table that was provided by Compliance Coal Corporation. Not all the pages have comments, but as you can appreciate, it may take some time to work our way through the table to review them.”
The screening review is a scan of the application to determine whether the Application Information Requirements have been met, and does not constitute an in-depth review to determine whether or not issues have been addressed and resolved to EAO’s satisfaction, Compliance vice-president of operations Stephen Ellis said by e-mail.
“As we have maintained all along, a comprehensive study delivers a high-quality environmental assessment, incorporating extensive public and aboriginal consultation — this screening review is simply the first round,” Ellis said.
The project is subject to a federal and provincial environmental review involving the findings of more than 15 independent scientists.
The application contains about 12,000 pages. Due to the onerous task to review the application, the EAO extended the evaluation period by 13 days.
The company and its consultant, AMEC, will review the EAO comments and provide clarification or additional information before resubmitting.
Receipt of application screening comments is typical and not unexpected after a first review, Ellis said. Comments include references to most of the environmental categories, public and First Nation consultation.