The battle over a proposed open-pit coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass continues.
After the Grassy Mountain Coal Project was deemed “not in the public interest” by a joint review panel (JRP) in June, Benga Mining Ltd. has announced it is beginning the process to appeal that decision.
In a news release Monday, the company said in part: “The JRP did not properly assess the impact of the project on Indigenous rights and economic interests. Should it proceed, the project would create hundreds of jobs and generate economic benefits for nearby Indigenous groups.”
“The JRP could have addressed any valid concerns with the project by making an approval conditional on strict conditions,” Benga CEO John Wallington said in the same release.
“This well-established and proven approach ensures any development can only proceed with adequate protections in place.”
Piikani Nation chief and council supported the project and is also requesting an appeal of the decision. Chief Stanley Grier said the decision to back the mine was made after weighing the risks and benefits, as well as discussions with experts and consultations with the community.
“As stated previously, the Piikani Nation supports the project and believes that it is an example of how mining can be done in a way that benefits surrounding communities, mitigates environmental impact and creates opportunities for work and economic development,” said a statement released by Grier on Wednesday.
“I know there are members of my Nation who take a different view, and I respect them and fully support their right to speak out. However, that does not change the position of the Piikani Nation.
“Our members entrusted the Chief and Council to make these decisions for the benefit of the Nation as a whole and not only for special interest groups opposed to the mine.”
Local advocates against the project say they will continue challenging the mine.
“We’re going to continue to raise our voices. We’re going to continue to be heard,” said Adam North Peigan, Piikani Mountain Child Valley Society chairman.
“We’re going to continue with our aggressive lobbying efforts to the government of Alberta and the government of Canada.”
“We’re hearing cries from the community for sustainable development, for conservation, for protection of spiritual and cultural areas,” Niitsitapi Water Protectors founder Latasha Calf Robe said.
According to Calf Robe, the mine is more than an environmental issue.
“Protection of cultural rights, protections of areas that really matter to the nations of the Blackfoot confederacy and Indigenous peoples in the area who all rely on those areas.”
In denying the project, the joint review panel said the impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights were not worth the financial return.
Grier said the First Nation is exploring the best route for challenging the decision.
“This is a difficult time in Canada for all First Nations people. We have been saddened and understandably distracted by ongoing news regarding residential schools. A regulatory process might seem insignificant in comparison.
“However, Piikani Chief and Council remain focused on our goal of creating prosperity for our people, and Grassy Mountain is an important part of our plans for prosperity now, and for future generations of Piikani people.”
The Piikani Nation’s request to appeal will be heard in Calgary on Sept. 9.
— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News