By Lethbridge Herald on February 9, 2021.
Lethbridge city council voted unanimously Tuesday to have Mayor Chris Spearman draft a letter to the province expressing the City of Lethbridge’s ongoing concerns with proposed coal mining in the headwaters of the Oldman River watershed; despite the recent Kenney government decision to reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy, pending public consultations on a new coal policy for Alberta.
Spearman acknowledged and thanked the provincial government for its decision to listen to the people of Alberta and reinstate the Coal Policy, but said the fact councillors voted unanimously to send the letter with other points of concern listed meant this was an vital issue for all Lethbridge’s citizens which cut across all political lines.
“I thought it (the motion) was, for the most part, apolitical,” said Spearman, “and the fact that the amendments and the motion in the end received unanimous support (on council) from people with different perspectives — I think says a lot.”
The letter contained several points for the province’s consideration, including a request for comprehensive public consultation on any new coal policy as well as concerns about how any new potential coal mining developments go forward.
The motion made by council stated there should be a complete and thorough analysis done of watershed impacts that may come from the allocation of Oldman River water for mining use, water quality impacts, the efficacy of technology to remove selenium and other contaminants generated as a result of the mining of coal and for a rigorous regime of ongoing testing for selenium contamination levels in watersheds resulting from the mining.
Council also asked the province to consider reviewing the Mine Financial Security Program to ensure there would be sufficient funds to cover the rehabilitation of mined lands, and so we do not end up in Alberta with another Orphan and Abandoned wells type of situation after any potential coal mining is done.
That part of the motion, to be included in the letter to the province, was largely apolitical — similarly the decision to issue an invitation to local MLAs Nathan Neudorf and Shannon Phillips as well MP Rachael Harder to come to address city council on the issue of coal mining crossed party lines.
However, there were two other aspects of the motion passed by council on Tuesday which could be seen as slightly more political. At the suggestion of Mayor Craig Snodgrass of High River, who has been leading a province-wide campaign to raise awareness of the potential negative impacts of coal mining and who presented during Tuesday’s meeting, council also entertained two other amendments to the main motion: to ask the province to put an immediate stop to all coal exploration in the Eastern Slopes pending a broader public consultation on a new coal policy, and for the provincial government to immediately stop any reallocation of water for the purposes of coal mining in the Oldman River watershed and other watersheds in Alberta, pending a broader public consultation process on a new coal policy.
Both of these proposed amendments were adopted unanimously by council.
Spearman said it is no secret water is of vital interest to all members of council, and all stakeholders in the Oldman River watershed, due to the limited amount available, and very real concerns about the potential for contamination of that limited water source due to coal mining.
“We are expressing concerns on behalf of the citizens of Lethbridge about the whole mining issue, but basically from the perspective the impact on the water that our city and region uses,” stated Spearman. “Very much along the lines of the water used for irrigation, that is used for agriculture, that is used for agricultural processing, and used for drinking water. And it is important there be an adequate supply of water, and that water be free from contamination.”
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