By Jensen, Randy on October 28, 2020.
Opposition is heating up against the proposed Benga mining company Grassy Mountain coal mine as the Joint Review panel starts to consider whether or not to approve the project with the opening of a public hearing on Tuesday.
The Joint Review panel will be evaluating the mining project and getting public feedback for both the provincial and federal governments over the next month.
Spokespersons for the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), the Canadian Associations of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) Alberta chapter, the Timberwolf Wilderness Society (TWS), the Livingstone Landowners Group, the Grassy Group, made up local landowners in the Grassy Mountain area, and Extinction Rebellion Calgary held a joint press conference Tuesday morning voicing their collective opposition to the project.
“I firmly believe the type of research our experts are going to present blasts major holes in the assumptions that Benga has made as part of its proposal,” said AWA conservation director Ian Urquhart, after outlining several concerns his group has with the project – including the potential for local water tables to drop 430 metres due to mining in a worst-case scenario, massive alterations to local creek habitats putting the endangered west slope cutthroat trout species at even greater risk, and longer-term risks to southern Alberta’s freshwater supply.
“What will Benga mining have to say about the damage its proposed mine will do to the water table?” he asked. “To local streams? To threatened species? Benga is going to offer you a version of ‘Don’t worry. Be happy.’ To that end they will promise to mitigate the mine’s damage. The buzzword they will use here is ‘adapted management.’ But what our water expert will argue the company’s adaptive management ambitions are untested, unproven, unsuitable, theoretical, and overly optimistic to ensure west slope cutthroat trout populations persist.”
TWS director Dave Mayhood, who is also an aquatic scientist, said the Joint Review panel’s consideration of the fate of the west slope cutthroat trout alone should mark the end to the entire Grassy Mountain proposal if the federal government follows its own rules under the Species At Risk Act (SARA).
“They want the federal government to issue a permit to destroy critical habitat (protected under SARA) for the purpose of surface-mining coal,” he explained. “Accordingly, we argue the Grassy Mountain mine cannot be approved by the Joint Review panel. The panel cannot approve an illegal act.”
Dr. Andrea Hull of CAPE said it is more than just fish and habitat health at risk if the Grassy Mountain project is approved.
“This is the drinking water for over a million Albertans,” she said referring to the Oldman River headwaters. “We already have examples of horrific water contamination from these kinds of mines. Coal mines in B.C., just across the border, have polluted fresh water with high levels of selenium, which is toxic to humans and aquatic life. This is causing major downstream effects all the way to the U.S., with many reports of deformed fish and concerns for the drinking water in communities.”
Hull acknowledged the legacy of coal mining in Alberta in places like Lethbridge and area alongside current day operations in the Crowsnest Pass, but, she said, it was time to move on from this industry in Alberta.
“The fact is the time has changed,” she said. “The culture is changing, and we know the impacts this has on the environment. We know what it does to the environment, and we know this is a matter of choosing profit over the health and safety of people.
“It is OK and acceptable to leave the past in the past, and move forward to a new direction,” Hull added. “We don’t have to go back to being a coal province. We can leave that as a part of our history and find new enrichment opportunities. They exist. They are there.”
Later in the day other conservation organizations added their voices to the discussion on the Grassy Mountain mine as the Joint Review panel hearings got underway.
“The impacts of projects like this are monumental and can be irreversible, we hope evidence presented during the trial will make it clear that the negative impacts will far outweigh any potential benefits,” said Katie Morrison, conservation director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta Chapter in a press release to local media.
“Open-pit coal mines in an already overburdened and essential watershed will not benefit Albertans, but quite the opposite,” said local rancher Jolayne Davidson Gardner. “The Grassy Mountain mine runs the very real risk of contaminating the water supply for over 200,000 Albertans and the irrigation supply for much of southern Alberta, with selenium, a common and irreversible issue for open-pit coal mines, of which there have yet to be proven solutions.”
“The most important public infrastructure of southern Alberta is the mountain and eastern slope watershed,” said area rancher Gordon Cartwright. “Watershed coal mining is asset liquidation and impairment, that will leave a legacy of liabilities and visual reminders, of government captured by corporate agendas, for the benefit of a few.”
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