An aerial view of the Union Bay coal hills. Photo courtesy JET Productions.

An aerial view of the Union Bay coal hills. Photo courtesy JET Productions.

West Fraser Timber to supply engineered cover for Union Bay coal hills

The provincial government has revealed new information on the long-awaited plans for the Union Bay coal hills.

In April 2017, development company Kensington Island Properties (KIP) sold 28.32 acres of its land in Union Bay to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

The land was sold for $1 and “other valuable consideration.”

Read More: KIP sells 28 acres of contaminated land to the province

The land transfer came as a surprise to many local residents. The 28 acres in question are located on the Union Bay coal hills — an area the B.C. government has recognized since 2012 as a “priority contaminated site.” The high sulfur content of the hills has resulted in acid rock drainage that has discharged metals into the Baynes Sound over the years.

Read More: Union Bay coal hills on priority contaminated site list in B.C.

Negotiations over the remediation of the coal hills have gone on for several years.

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request for a copy of the land transfer agreement between KIP and the province was denied.

According to the denied FOI request, withholding the transfer agreement was due to a “common law of settlement privilege,” which refers to protection of communications exchanged by parties as they try to settle a dispute.

Adjacent to the section previously owned by KIP, the rest of the coal hills is leased by the Crown to forestry company West Fraser Timber. The company’s lease expires later this year.

KIP had originally intended for its section of the coal hills to make up a portion of its golf course. After acquiring the land last spring, ministry staff said the province plans to erect a “green space” there once the area is eventually remediated.

An email to the Record from the ministry said that West Fraser Timber is “developing a detailed design plan for an engineered cover” at its own cost that will be submitted to the Ministry of Environment for review. The engineered cover will envelop the entire contaminated area.

When contacted, West Fraser Timber declined to comment.

According to the ministry, the engineered cover will impede water access to the coal pile, reducing acid rock drainage and the release of metals to the environment.

“After the engineered cover is installed, West Fraser will surrender its lease of the portion of the coal pile to the province,” reads the email. “In the event that the engineered cap doesn’t sufficiently reduce the level of metals being discharged, water treatment of the discharge may be required.”

The ministry told the Record the work is expected to be completed in 18–24 months.

The ministry’s email also stated that the entire coal hills will be considered undeveloped vacant Crown land and that any development in the area will be prohibited, including the growth or harvesting of trees.

The provincial government has confirmed it will be responsible for monitoring and maintaining the engineered cover, but questions still remain as to how much public dollars it could end up costing.

“While the cost to the province will not be known until after the detailed design plan is completed, the costs are not expected to be material on an annual basis,” reads the email. “Depending on monitoring results, a water treatment plant may need to be installed.”

Fanny Bay resident John Snyder, who is the former president of the defunct Coal Watch Comox Valley society, is worried taxpayers will ultimately end up paying for the coal hills’ clean-up.

“It’s going to have to be addressed at some point and I’m not sure who is going to pay for it. It’s going to cost a few bucks, for sure,” he said.

The Union Bay coal hills were originally used by Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. as a washing and load-out facility for coal coming from the Cumberland mines. The hills’ contamination is due to residue from the industrial operations undertaken there.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Courtenay–Alberni MP Gord Johns says 12 million Canadians do not have dental insurance. Photo by Bofu Shaw, courtesy of Unsplash
Courtenay–Alberni MP, CDA consider dental care for all Canadians

Gord Johns has initiated a mail-out that asks constituents the date of… Continue reading

A 407 Squadron CP-140 Aurora, along with a Halifax-Class frigate enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea in support of Op Neon in 2019. Canadian Forces photo/submitted
407 Squadron defends Canada for 80 years

The Comox-based squadron celebrating special anniversary

Jasmine Francoeur from Comox is an aviation technician for the Snowbirds air demonstration team. Photo by Canadian Forces/submitted
Comox’s Jasmine Francoeur’s career comes full circle with the Snowbirds

“To fly out here, fly into my hometown, it’s very special and I feel very lucky”

The school board is endorsing a national coalition for healthy food in schools. Screenshot, Comox Valley Schools
Comox Valley school board backs national healthy food initiative

Coalition for Healthy School Food wants federal government to invest in food program

Comox Valley RCMP have responded to an increased amount of calls last year within the Town of Comox. File photo
Policing calls for traffic, domestic assault increasing within Town of Comox: RCMP

There were 2,806 calls for service within the town in 2020

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

Most Read