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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Grassy Mountain coal mining project presented to Pincher Creek's councils

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency graphic
Toni Lucas/Christian Davis
(updated)
Benga Mining Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Riversdale Resources Limited, is proposing to construct and operate an open-pit metallurgical coal mine near the Crowsnest Pass, approximately seven kilometres north of the community of Blairmore, in south-west Alberta. As proposed, the production capacity of the project would be a maximum of four million tonnes of clean coal per year, over a mine-life of about 25 years. - Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
Riversdale Resources sent representatives to speak to the councils for the MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 and the Town of Pincher Creek on separate occasions in the first half of December, 2015. Riversdale Sustainable Resources Manager Cal Clark spoke to both Councils about the progress of the Grassy Mountain Mining Project. Riversdale Resources is a Sydney, Australia based company which acquired the Crowsnest Pass Complex, which includes the Grassy mountain property north of Blairmore, through its wholly owned subsidiary Benga Mining in August of 2013.

Riversdale's slideshow presentation to Town of Pincher Creek council (click image to enlarge)
Clark discussed where his company is in the regulatory part of the process, input they have received at public meetings, laid out the timeline of their project and discussed their socio-economic assessment. Clark explained the Grassy Mountain Project is focusing on the type of coal is used in the production of steel, known as metallurgical coal. Riversdale Community Liaison Keith Bott was at the meeting with Town Council town council with Clark to answer any questions council presented. "We thought it was time to come in and give you guys an update on where we're at in the project, and answer any questions you may have as well," said Clark.

Clark explained Riversdale has filed their environmental impact assessment regarding the Grassy Mountain Project with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). "This is the next step of the process that began about a year ago when we filed a project description which is almost like a disclosure document with both agencies (CEAA and AER), that announced move our intentions to precede with developing a coal mine." This started a 45 day public consultation period with the AER. He said during this time frame the public can submit statements of concern to the province starting on the day the filed the documents on November 10. "Right now this 45 day period is an important one for entering statements of concern in relation to the application." He explained to the council concerns could be expressed either in favor of or against the project and said the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce and council had already agreed to supply letters of support before the deadline.

Clark said this is the first project to come about since major revisions starting in 2012 to both the AER and the CEAA. "This will be the first joint review project under these two new systems, so we're a bit of a Guinea pig there." He then addressed some of the financial implications of the process. "Just to get to this stage we've spent about $17 million dollars in assessment and engineering. To go to full engineering we would be adding tens of millions of dollars on top of that." He provided information gathered from a recent open house held in Crowsnest Pass. He said approximately 200 people attended, 146 people signed in. He said 64 people filled out forms to provide feedback on the project. From that information the two top identified community concerns and interests were water quality and safety and changing impacts to the community character.

^ Identified Community Concerns as provided by Riversdale Resources, based on 57 completed surveys at their October 29, 2015 Crowsnest Pass Open House.

"Some other questions as a result that may come up through this regulatory process will come forward as time goes on. It is a public process from here on out all the way to the end." Clark said the documents that they have filed a for their EIA is approximately 6000 pages long. "It's five volumes, there's a lot that goes into these things."

Environmental Impact Assessment statements of concern must be filed with the Alberta Energy Regulator by January 4, 2016, with copies to Riversdale Resources. See the bottom of this article for more information. Update: The deadline to file a Statement of Concern on Application No. 1844520 has been extended from January 4 to January 15.
Clark said that there would be an upcoming public information session "...probably in the second week of February." He also said that there will probably be three separate information sessions within the communities of Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass, and Sparwood. "The Federal government have already announced the project review is going to go to a panel review and hearing. We anticipate the hearing to be in Q1 (first quarter) 2017." If the current timeline remains intact he projected construction on the project would be completed by the end of 2018 or early 2019.

He said they are currently projecting approximately 1050 direct and indirect jobs over the life span of the project, including 640 in Alberta, and 410 in British Columbia. They currently project there will be approximately 390 people employed by the mine. "With the project and the expected influx not just employees, but their families, we anticipated a population increase of 660 people by 2020. That would at least stabilize the population to pre-2011 levels." He said they have a timeline of a 20 to 25 year lifespan for the project. Housing is an issue they are looking into for this project.  In terms of vehicular traffic, Clark said there was an estimate of "A less than 1% change in traffic patterns, so really insignificant."  He added that one of the ways they are planning on reducing the traffic impact is through busing of employees.

"One of the things that we've talked about doing is perhaps what is needed is a bit of regional study especially in light of the recent decisions that have happened," Clark said, mentioning recent changes in the environmental protection level of the Castle area, changes in the oil and gas sector, and alternative energy development were a few items he sees that could be brought to a larger scale discussion. "There's a need to really do a bit of a strategic social economic strategy for this part of the world."

"One of the things that we've talked about doing is perhaps what is needed is a bit of regional study especially in light of the recent decisions that have happened," said Clark, listing the recent announcement of the expansion of the Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the creation of the Castle Provincial Park, changes in the economy of the oil and gas sector, alternative energy development as a few items he sees that could be brought to a larger scale discussion. "There's a need to really do a bit of a strategic social economic strategy for this part of the world."

The Grassy Mountain Mining Project has been warmly welcomed by many who see it as an economic boost to the area. It has also been the subject of considerable opposition. A "Stop Grassy Mtn Mining Proposal" page has been launched on Facebook, with 78 members at present. Another Facebook page, "Coal Mining in the Oldman Headwaters", began earlier this month and has 178 followers.

On November 30 of this year the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) announced it has allocated $745,983.07 to 13 applicants "to assist their participation in the environmental assessment by a review panel of the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project in southwest Alberta".

Applicants and the amount allocated to each:
  • Blood Tribe - $94,150.00
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society - Southern Alberta Chapter - $13,865.00
  • Coalition of Grassy Mountain Group and Alberta Wilderness Association - $16,413.83
  • Ktunaxa Nation Council, on behalf of ?Akisq'nuk First Nation, Aq'am (St. Mary's Indian Band), Lower Kootenay Indian Band, Tobacco Plains Indian Band - $87,198.74
  • Métis Nation of Alberta – Region 3 - $21,760.00
  • Métis Provincial Council of British Columbia - $21,800.00
  • Piikani Nation - $93,370.00
  • Samson Cree Nation - $21,800.00
  • Shirley Kirby - $21,800.00
  • Shuswap Indian Band - $21,585.50
  • Siksika Nation - $94,140.00
  • Stoney Nakoda Nation, on behalf of Bearspaw First Nation, Chiniki First Nation, Wesley First Nation - $142,500.00
  • Tsuut'ina Nation - $95,600.00
According to the CEAA, "The funding will assist recipients to review and comment on the Review Panel Terms of Reference and on the Environmental Impact Statement, and to prepare for and participate in the public hearing.  The funding will also assist recipients in commenting on the potential conditions that would be required, if the project is allowed to proceed. Aboriginal groups will also receive funding to review the Panel Report."

Environment Impact Statements

Information about the proposed project and the environmental assessment process is available on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) registry at ceaa.gc.ca, reference number 80101.

Copies of the draft Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines are also available at:

Crowsnest Community Library
2114 - 127 Street
Blairmore, Alberta

Sparwood Public Library
110 Pine Avenue
Sparwood, British Columbia

Pincher Creek and District Municipal Library
899 Main Street
Pincher Creek, Alberta

Lethbridge Public Library
810 - 5 Avenue South
Lethbridge, Alberta

Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012 an environmental assessment focuses on potential adverse environmental effects that are within federal jurisdiction (represented by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for projects of this type), including:
  • fish and fish habitat
  • other aquatic species
  • migratory birds
  • federal lands
  • effects that cross provincial or international boundaries
  • effects that impact on Aboriginal peoples, such as their use of lands and resources for traditional purposes
  • changes to the environment that are directly linked to or necessarily incidental to any federal decisions about a project
The Act also includes criteria regarding cooperation and communication with Aboriginal peoples, under which “environmental effects” includes provisions that explicitly relate to Aboriginal peoples and environmental effects that cause changes to their:
  • health and socio-economic conditions
  • physical and cultural heritage
  • current use of land and resources for traditional purposes
  • structures, sites or things that are of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance
From the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency website:

"At the end of an environmental assessment, the Minister of the Environment determines whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account mitigation measures that were identified during the environmental assessment. If it is determined that a project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, the federal Cabinet will then decide whether these effects are justified in the circumstances. A decision statement is issued that sets out the decision and associated conditions with which the proponent must comply.

Failure to fulfill the conditions in a decision statement is a violation of CEAA 2012. Enforcement officers will verify compliance and the Minister may also seek an injunction to stop activities that violate CEAA 2012 or to prevent such violations. Contraventions of the CEAA 2012 can result in maximum fines as high as $400,000."

EIA statements of concern (updated):

Environmental Impact Assessment statements of concern must be filed with the Alberta Energy Regulator by 4:00 pm January 4, 2016, with copies to Riversdale Resources/Benga Mining.

Update: The deadline to file a Statement of Concern on Application No. 1844520 has been extended from January 4 to January 15.

Click here for information about how to file an Alberta Energy Regulator Statement of Concern regarding the Grassy Mountain Coal Project.

"All comments received will be considered public."

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