December 2nd, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 46
Council updated on Grassy Mountain mine project
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Photo:By Keith McClary (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Grassy Mountain coal seam.
Pass Herald Reporter
With Riversdale Resources' proposal for the Grassy Mountain metallurgic coal mine before federal and provincial energy regulators, Environment Canada has said the project would hurt one of the community’s most important resources: it’s water.

"There will be degradation of water quality in both Blairmore and Gold Creeks, which will receive waste rock leach waters,” said a document submitted by Environment Canada to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) to determine if a full environmental review for the project was required.

Long-term water concerns include the release of both sulphate and selenium into watercourses that have valued populations and critical habitat for westslope cutthroat trout, said the document.

Previous water quality sampling results have already found traces of selenium, mercury, copper and aluminum in those watercourses.

Lorne Fitch, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary, who spent 35 years as a leading provincial fisheries biologist, said the documents are a warning of what mining, if permitted, would do to Blairmore and Gold Creeks and the Crowsnest River.

“If this development goes ahead, for all intents and purposes we will see the fish populations of both streams decline and for threatened cutthroat trout probably disappear,” said Fitch. “This is based on serious, severe changes in physical habitat, extreme sedimentation, a variety of water quality perturbations and water removal from the system.”

At a special council meeting on Nov. 25, Cal Clark, Riversdale’s manager of sustainable development, commented on the possibility of selenium contamination from the Grassy Mountain mine.

The Grassy Mountain mine would be based in the same geological formation as Teck Resources’ Elk Valley mines and Environment Canada has stated that, “any predictive water quality modeling may possibly utilize release rates derived for the Elk Valley mines."

But Clark said Selenium would not be as large an issue as it has been for Teck Resources, which has invested heavily in a water treatment plan.
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“While selenium has been noted in our assessment and we are doing work around selenium, the background levels of selenium and the expected issue at Grassy Mountain is not as bad as what they have at Teck,” said Clark.

Riversdale has no plans to build water treatment facilities for the Grassy Mountain project, as Teck has for their projects, but the company is, “looking at options to monitor the selenium levels,” said Clark.

“I can’t answer whether [a water treatment facility] will be a requirement of this project, or not,” he added. “But the design we have for our pits and managing selenium should be quite effective and won’t require major capital investment.”

As part of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, Teck is investing about $600 million over a five-year period on the installation of water diversions and water treatment facilities to address the management of selenium and other substances released by mining activities throughout the Elk Valley watershed. That amount includes about $120 million invested to build a water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations.

Aside from Line Creek Operations, Teck has built water treatment facilities at a number of their Elk Valley Operations, including one at Fording River Operations, planned for 2018 and it is anticipated another will be necessary at Elkview Operations.

Selenium is a mineral element found naturally in most soils. It is being released in levels dangerous to aquatic life in the Elk Valley by huge piles of waste rock produced by coal mining.

The selenium problem is not thought to pose any human health risks, although last year Sparwood had to temporarily close one of its drinking water wells because selenium levels exceeded drinking-water standards.
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Riversdale held an open house on the Grassy Mountain project on Oct. 29 at the MDM Centre in Bellevue. An estimated 200 people were present, 146 signed-in and 64 completed exit surveys. The results showed that 30 respondents, or about 47 per cent, want the mine built, 14 respondents, or about 22 per cent, do not, while one respondent was a maybe and two gave no response.

Based on the survey, one of the top community concerns was water safety. Seventy-five per cent of respondents identified groundwater as a concern and 67 per cent identified surface water.

At the Nov. 25 meeting, council reiterated its support for the project.
“What I’m hearing from the community is out community needs jobs,” said Mayor Blair Painter.

“It’s very important for our community, as jobs go, and to give our community some stability,” he said. “But of course there are environmental concerns and the other concerns from our community regarding the location of the load-out, the noise, the dust, the lights, those kinds of issues. We’ve got to mitigate those things.”
December 2nd ~ Vol. 85 No. 46
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