April 5th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 14
Grassy Mountain Coal Project update
The construction phase is anticipated to take 18 months to two years once a decision is made.
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
By Keith McClary (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Grassy Mountain coal seam.
Pass Herald Reporter
Cal Clark, Manager of Sustainable Development at Benga Mining Limited, a subsidiary of Riversdale Resources, provided Council with an update on the Grassy Mountain Project at a special meeting on March 29.

Regulatory update:

Cal Clark (C.C.): Benga has completed the final submission of the Fisheries and Aquatics addendum, as well as an additional bat survey as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that is required by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

At the end of February 2017, Benga requested that the AER temporarily suspend its review of their application in order to update the water balance numbers as required under the Water Act, the provincial legislation that protects the water for Albertans.

Once the water balance data is submitted, AER will resume their examination of the integrated application for completeness and ensure it conforms to all policies and legislation. Once that is completed, they will issue a Notice of Application and then proceed with their technical review of the EIA. A public period of comment is expected to take place as part of the Notice of Application.

Environment update:

C.C.: As the spring conditions allow, we’re going to be going on-site to begin setting up and developing environmental land monitoring programs, starting with the weather station that will provide data for the site.

We’re currently developing a new website for our project. One of the things that we’re trying to do with our monitoring is to have it integrated with our website. The intent is to have, as much as is feasible, live uploads of our monitoring information right onto that website so that people can observe in real time what’s happening. That’ll be a great source of information on the project. We will have regular updates in terms of the regulatory process, what’s happening in the environment and what’s happening in the community.

Community update:

C.C.: Benga has recently released their spring 2017 newsletter and we are working on developing the website, coming out in the spring. The website will feature information on sponsorship and funding opportunities for community activities and groups, as well as a careers page.
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Golf course update:

C.C.: They are planning on installing the irrigation system. With the traffic that is anticipated during its construction, we will be shutting down Grassy Mountain Road temporarily. We will be talking to local land owners affected by this. We also anticipate that there will be some local hiring to support the process.

Question period:

Members of the gallery who attended the Council meeting as well as Councillors had the opportunity to ask Clark questions and voice opinions.

What are the water balance numbers required for?

C.C.: Any time a proponent like us wants to come in and do something that involves using water, we have to license it. We have to get permission from the government to use a certain amount of water because there are requirements under the Water Act that a certain amount of water be left in the creek to sustain the environment and other people who have rights to use water down the stream. Part of the water balance is to fully understand and describe exactly what our water requirements are going to be. The province requires us to do that on an annual basis for the entire life of the project.

In regard to the water balance numbers for the Water Act, what happens if the project requires more water than anticipated?

C.C.: We could reduce our water requirements or we could seek other water licenses elsewhere and get them transferred in. Or, we could delay, ramp up slowly and look at other ways. The issue we have is not a water shortage; the water is there. It’s how to license it. We have other options available to us up to and including building a pipeline and working with the minister herself. There are reserve allocations available, and we could seek some of that water if needed. It’s doable; it’s just finding the right combination to keep everybody happy.

What is the outlook in terms of a timeframe?

C.C.: A key milestone is that we get this Water Act resubmitted in the next couple of weeks. We should get the Notice of Application by early May. They could announce going to a panel at any point after that. The next step in the process would involve the release of a public Terms of Reference around the formation of that panel. Once the Terms of Reference are drafted, they will be released for public comment. Realistically, I don’t anticipate a panel to be assembled before the end of the year. The panel itself, once it convenes, will have to review all the material to date, which could take a few months. There will also be more opportunity for public input on the EIA. The timeline of the panel is dependent on the supplemental requests and/or technical questions posed by the panel.

The construction phase is anticipated to take 18 months to two years once a decision is made.
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What does the Grassy Mountain Coal Project mean to the municipality in terms of tax dollars?

Mayor Blair Painter (B.P.): The mine is not in the Crowsnest Pass; it’s in the Ranchlands. So the only part that is in our community is the load-out. It is just speculation at this point, but it could add possibly $450,000 a year in machinery, equipment and land taxes. Along with that, Riversdale is saying that they could have up to 400 workers employed. It is difficult to say how much of them are actually going to live in our community, but if we could get a third, that would be 125 to150 more residents in our community. To go further, some of those families might start businesses or there could be spinoff industries associated with the mine.

Councillor Dean Ward (D.W.): Our entire commercial tax base right now is about $700,000 a year. Fifteen years ago, 25% of our tax base was commercial. Today, it’s less than 10%. So is half a million bucks or a million bucks going to have an impact on us? You bet.

This project feels like it’s a done deal and we are simply going through a process. Is there any way this project could be shut down?

C.C.: Yes. There’s always the possibility that a “no” could happen, but I’ll be honest, I don’t see that happening. The province and the community need this project. In my experience, I don’t see anything yet that is what I would call a “show-stopper.”

What happens if the project is found to be not in compliance at any point in time?

C.C.: With the AER approval will be a lengthy document with conditions. One of the very first conditions will be that we comply with all the commitments and adhere to the predicted results as expressed in our application. They will require us to do extensive monitoring to verify that the impact predictions are true. If they’re not, there is usually an escalating triage management approach. If it reaches a point where we are exceeding a threshold or a regulatory level, they could step in with escalating penalties and requirements, they could physically force us to shut down or we could be exposed to anything from a legal challenge to the province stepping in.

Are the residents of Crowsnest Pass going to have an opportunity to vote for or against the project proceeding?

B.P.: We have control over rezoning of property. We don’t have control over what businesses or industries we want to have in our community. That’s dictated by the federal and provincial government.

C.C.: This is a provincial decision. The municipality has no veto on this. Residents have the opportunity to weigh in. There are periods of consultation that occur throughout this lengthy process where multiple times, community members and groups have an equal say in what happens.

The next special council meeting for an update on the Grassy Mountain Coal Project is scheduled for May 17 at 1:30 p.m. in Council chambers.
April 5th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 14
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