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Coronach, Sask. ‘will die’ in the push for a greener Canada

In a green Canada, small town Saskatchewan will be the victim
“It sort of shadows over everything that there is a closure date,” Catherine MacKay-Wilson knows in a post-coal future, Coronach, Saskatchewan loses theirs.

“It’s in our blood, really,” Catherine MacKay-Wilson said.

MacKay-Wilson is the town administrator for Coronach, Sask., a small town of about 700. It also home to the Poplar River coal mine and power generating station.

But by 2030, those industries may not be there any longer. As part of the Paris Agreement, the federal government plans to phase out coal power generation, and by extension towns like Coronach.

“It’s heartbreaking. [The town residents] really believe here that this community will die without coal,” MacKay-Wilson said.
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READ MORE: Feds announce new rules to phase out coal, reduce natural gas

On Wednesday night, a task force from the federal government held a town hall asking people what would what happen when the mine closes.

“It’s kind of hard, for the people who are still working. They’re going to lose their houses. What’s going to happen with their houses? Where do their kids go to school? All that kind of stuff. For myself, where do I go?” said Garth Hiltz, a miner of 25 years, who retired in 2002.

Like many of those who live in Coronach, Hiltz moved to the town for work at the mine, and stayed after he retired. His six children live in town. Some work as farmers but one followed in his father’s footsteps and also works at the mine.

Hiltz wonders what will happen to him if it closes.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see that families are already being split up because of the unknown, the instability, and the threat of no coal being used,” MacKay-Wilson added.

READ MORE: Government claims carbon tax could cut 90 million tonnes of CO2: report

The town says loss of industry will likely result in 80 per cent of residents leaving; roughly 300 residents work at either the coal mine or the power station.

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It would mean the loss of services, an exodus of residents, and real estate value would plummet.

“It’s scary. We have that feeling of instability all the time. It sort of shadows over everything that there is a closure date,” MacKay-Wilson admitted.

“I am absolutely quite sure I won’t be able to sell. I think the best thing for me is to stay here as long as I can, and then walk away maybe,” Hiltz added.

“They took elevators a few years ago, and now they’re at the industry,” he continued.

For everyone in Coronach, it’s a nagging thought: at any moment they could lose everything.

Surprisingly, they aren’t angry. Instead the town is praying for answers, hoping for a solution to save the plant.

READ MORE: Alberta communities getting help to plan for life after coal

“We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for jobs. We’re not asking for people to change what coal does to the universe. We’re asking for an industry that can maintain our community,” MacKay-Wilson stated.

“It’s been an asset. There [has to be] some way that we could get around these emissions. There’s no reason it can’t continue,” added 91-year-old Harold Siggelkow.
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But technology has yet to catch up with their aspirations. A carbon-capture system, like the one at Boundary Dam 3, has not been installed at Poplar River, and SaskPower has not indicated that they intend to do so in the future.

As a result, the town is forced to wait and watch, praying they avoid the fateful day the mine closes.

“The level of potential loss is almost hard to fathom,” added MacKay-Wilson.