The president of CoalWatch Comox Valley suggests most members of the public do not realize that coal hills in Union Bay are among 13 priority contaminated sites in B.C. that have been identified by the Province.
According to the most recent provincial biennial report on contaminated sites, high sulphur content in waste coal piles has resulted in acid rock drainage.
''I don't think most of the people in the Valley have even a clue," John Snyder said.
Other contaminated locations including Iron Crown Mine on Vancouver Island and the Britannia Mine on the mainland are targeted for cleanup due to confirmed risk to human health and the environment, the report states.
A Remedial Options Feasibility Report prepared for West Fraser Mills by Keystone Environmental considers various technologies to deal with the Union Bay coal hills. It suggests a soil cover option is the cheapest at $17 million. The costliest would be complete excavation and off-site disposal, estimated to run between $71 million and $95 million.
According to the Environment Ministry, cleanup of the Union Bay coal hills involves the Province, West Fraser and Kensington Island Properties.
Most of the site is on Crown land under lease to West Fraser until 2018. A smaller portion of the site is private land owned by KIP. The allocation of projected remediation costs has yet to be determined.
It has been more than a decade since KIP purchased 1,000-plus acres in Union Bay. The company plans to build houses, a golf course, a marina walkway, and a series of parks and trails. It has so far invested more than $12 million into the project, says Kensington vice-president Brian McMahon.
The company is well aware of the coal hills.
"It's going to cost a lot of money and we've budgeted for it," McMahon said.
The coal hills developed over a period of decades as residue from coal mined in Cumberland was washed off at Union Bay before it was shipped to customers. Coal dust can ignite, causing an explosion.