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November 4th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 43
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Mine messes of the past blamed for Gold Creek tailings release
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Gold Creek - Crowsnest Pass, Alberta
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
As Alberta’s energy regulator continues investigating Riversdale Resources Ltd. for the release of coal tailings into Gold Creek, environmental consultants hired by the Australian based company are saying the incident resulted from a legacy of un-remediated mining.

Dane McCoy, an environmental consultant with Millennium EMS Solutions Ltd., said the incident that led to the investigation occurred in July when a large pile of coal tailings from an earlier mine site located on Crown Land near Grassy Mountain collapsed into Gold Creek after a heavy rainfall.

As part of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Millenium and Hatfield Consultants have investigated Gold Creek and some of its tributaries and determined that this type of event has been happening since mining ceased on Grassy Mountain sixty years ago.

“There’s plenty of evidence to show that this is not unusual for Gold Creek but it’s never been reported previously,” said McCoy. “It’s a very degraded watershed.”

McCoy said there are nine former mine sites on Riversdale’s Grassy Mountain holdings many of which have not been cleaned up to modern standards.

“Traditionally Alberta hasn’t held anybody responsible for those legacy-mining activities,” he said. “The old legacy open pit mining activities were abandoned because that was alright in the 1960s, we know better now.”

Riversdale’s managing director Steve Mallyon said tailings from the old mine sites would continue to degrade Gold Creek. Remediation work that would follow the Grassy Mountain Coal Project would provide an opportunity to clean the site, he said.
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As the coal is mined, overburden would be stored which would allow for the cleanup of the many piles of coal tailings on Grassy Mountain. This would lead to improvements in the quality of the stream, he said.

“As we mine through, we’ll reclaim mining legacy piles,” said Mallyon.

He also said a proposed settling pond at the bottom of the hill would prevent releases from entering the Crowsnest River.

Riversdale has also proposed a stewardship program, separate from the EIA, in partnership with the Crowsnest Conservation Society, to restore Gold Creek.

“Riversdale isn’t going to do this on its own, we have to do it with the community and various groups,” said Mallyon. “The end result will hopefully be a cleaner creek.”

Brittany Verbeek, conservation specialist with the AWA, thinks Riversdale needs to be held accountable for Gold Creek, which is considered crucial habitat for Alberta’s threatened population of Westslope cutthroat trout.

Westslope cutthroat trout are listed as a threatened species in Alberta and were listed federally in March 2013. A federal recovery plan for the trout was finalized in 2014 and Verbeek said locating a mine on Grassy Mountain could violate the plan.

“The recovery strategy outlines Gold Creek and Blairmore Creek as critical habitat,” said Verbeek. “I just think recovery strategies need to be implemented and some of these populations are so isolated and small, we need to be actively recovering the population and not increasing risk to their habitat.”
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Cutthroat trout have experienced a decline in numbers due to habitat loss, over-harvesting and the introduction of non-native species. Scientists believe the fish now inhabit about five per cent of their original distribution.

The AER is using a three-phase process to investigate Riversdale to determine whether the company failed to comply with the rules. First, AER staff collects information and conducts a site and incident assessment. Second, is an analysis of the materials collected and the third phase includes the final file review and enforcement response decision.

“We are currently in the evidence collection phase of the investigation,” said Ryan Bartlett, senior advisor with the Alberta Energy Regulator.
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November 4th ~ Vol. 85 No. 43
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