November 25th, 2020

Compromise and economics

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on October 29, 2020.

Last week’s city council discussions around allowing a new 341-condo-unit development in downtown Lethbridge brought up the issue of the old Galt 1 Mine which underlies the proposed location of the site. In reality, one has to think, coal underlies much of what Lethbridge has become today.

Even in one of its earliest incarnations Lethbridge was once called Coalbanks in homage to an industry which defined the community’s economic fortunes. We still have Coalhurst and Coaldale nearby today. And Alexander Galt’s Northwestern Coal and Navigation company continues to loom large over Lethbridge’s history and legacy.

And yet here we are in 2020 with another proposed coal mine at Grassy Mountain in the Oldman River headwaters being considered this week by the Joint Review Panel, and local support for such an endeavour seems tepid at best despite some of the positive potential economic spinoffs for some communities in the region.

In the past we would have happily traded a mountain and some long-term risk to local water courses for the sake of the immediate payoff. One could say values have changed and times are different with agriculture now our region’s shining star. But one also has to wonder what we would happily trade today for the sake of that industry’s ongoing success? Increased long-term health risks in the environment from large-scale herbicide exposure? The cutting up of the region’s last remaining native grasslands? The ongoing and increasing saltification of the soil due to increasing nitrogen fertilizer usage on cultivated lands?

While not as dramatic as the systematic levelling of a mountain over decades, the long-term implications to the natural ecology of the prairie environment may be just as impactful. But no one gives as much thought for lark sparrows or butcher birds as they do for cut-throat trout, it seems.

Coal mining at Grassy Mountain by an Australian mining conglomerate with no real interest in Alberta other than how much money it can make may be the great evil of today in the minds of some. But here stands Lethbridge – founded on the same metrics by a large mining consideration back in the day.

That brings us to perhaps the most relevant question: How much do we still owe the past?

Coal once made us rich, but that obviously does not mean we have to support the Grassy Mountain project for a host of good reasons.

But what we do have to remember is we who live in and govern Lethbridge would have made a far different choice in our own self-interest not so many years ago. Ask yourselves, what are we still willing to continue to compromise for the sake of our own city’s ongoing prosperity? Once considered, then perhaps consider all the stones underfoot which could still be cast.

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