Proposed coal mining in the Crowsnest Pass prompts questions

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WATCH ABOVE: Benga mining continues to work through the regulatory process for the 'grassy mountain' project. The project is raising some social and environmental concerns. As Kimberly Tams reports, some of those questions were addressed in Lethbridge – Jan 7, 2016

LETHBRIDGE –  After decades of inactivity, an Australian company continues its bid to reopen coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass.

Sydney-based Riversdale Resources has spent almost $50-million acquiring coal properties in the pass, including the Grassy Mountain property north of Blairmore.

Cal Clark, sustainable development manager for Riversdale, said he knows not everyone is on board with the idea.

“Projects of this nature always have impacts,” said Clark. “Some are negative and some are positive, and it’s finding that balance.”

Clark was in Lethbridge on Thursday, addressing a packed house at a Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs meeting.

“A lot of work goes into evaluating and coming up with a decision on whether a project should proceed or not. It’s a lot of public involvement. We are already getting statements of concern.  People are formally submitting concerns and over the next 16 months, we go over those concerns and try to mitigate and accommodate many of those concerns.”

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The open-pit mine on the mountain would be roughly six kilometres long and two kilometres wide.  Riversdale Resources estimates the mine would produce two to four tonnes of coal per year, over a mine lifespan of about 25 years.  The clean coal would be shipped to Asia for steel-making purposes.

According to Clark, the biggest benefit to residents in the Crowsnest Pass would be jobs.  The project would bring close to 1,000 jobs to the area.

“When you look at the downturn of the oil and gas sector, jobs are important to people,” said Clark.  “There is a history here. Coal mining has been in the valley and been a major complement to its economy for 100 years.”

Environmentalists question whether the economic benefits outweigh the potential environmental harm.

“We have the legacy of coal mining endeavours in the Crowsnest Pass, all of which continue to provide water quality issues,” said biologist Lorne Fitch.

The Grassy Mountain project is currently undergoing an independent environmental review.


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