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Coalmont villagers fuming over black river

Doris Bregolisse/ Global Okanagan

COALMONT, BC; Coal deposits have been found at least 30 km downstream from where about 30 cubic metres of a coal mine tailings pond entered the Tulameen River Saturday night.

The BC Ministry of Environment continues to investigate the incident at the Basin Coal Mine near Coalmont. Residents of the village north of Princeton complain they’re being kept in the dark.

“I would strongly suggest that every single person in Coalmont that uses a well (and that means everyone) call the IHA and tell them they don’t know what they are talking about. How long do we permit them to deny our existence? This is one more example that they don’t know and don’t care about our needs.” says Bob Sterne on coco.coalmont.net in regards to news of the incident.

The New Coalmont Courier editor Ole Juul says, “The handling of this event is disappointing.”

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“Apparently Interior Health also doesn’t know we exist. Their reported statement that there are no wells within 18 km is a jaw dropper. Why would they say that? We’re all on wells in this community and it is a narrow valley so everything is close to the river,” states Juul.

The coal processing plant malfunctioned Saturday, forcing plant water to be drained into a detention pond. The tailings then overflowed into an emergency pond with the material entering the Tulameen river 12 km north of the Coalmont Bridge.

A resident called the mine after witnessing the blackened water Sunday morning.

Coalmont Energy Corp. says it is working closely with Interior Health on water quality issues, but believes the tailings will not be harmful to the environment. The open pit mine doesn’t use explosives and the coal is sulphur free, according to mine manager Allan McGowan.

According to the Interior Health Authority, a flocculent used in separating the coal from clay is also an organic substance. The IHA hadn’t issued a water advisory as of Tuesday for the Tulameen but told Global Okanagan if the water looks black, residents should avoid swimming in the area.

The Ministry of Environment has taken water samples to test for metals and say it’s too early to say if fines would result from the incident.

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The coal processing plant remains shut down, although Coalmont Energy says no workers have been laid off. Coal mining continues at the nearby pit for stockpiling.

While the company says it recycles its waste water, the tailing pond was created for emergencies like Saturday’s plant failure. An old tailings pond from previous mining at the site remains uncontaminated from this weekend’s plant failure, says McGowan.

The Basin Coal Mine opened in June 2013 at the site of the old Blakeburn Coal Mine. It is owned by Coalmont Energy Corporation of Kelowna and employees about 150 people. The mine is said to have a 20 year life and could produce up to 1 million tonnes of coal a year.

McGowan says ‘A’ grade coal is sent to Japan for energy use while ‘B’ grade is kept in Canada for cement manufacturing.