December 6th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 49
Deadline approaching for Statements of Concern
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
By Keith McClary (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Grassy Mountain Coal Mine near Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada
Pass Herald Reporter
With the approaching deadline to file Statements of Concern with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) concerning a proposed coal facility in the area, Crowsnest Pass resident David McIntyre prepares to submit his letter, a second submission for the retired forest scientist.

The AER issued a Notice of Application for the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project by Benga Mining Limited, a subsidiary of Riversdale Resources on October 31, 2017. The deadline to file statements of concern is Friday, December 8, 2017.

Riversdale is proposing to develop a metallurgical coal mine that will produce 4.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year over a lifespan of 25 years. The majority of mine infrastructure - like the plant and open pit mine - are located within the MD of Ranchlands while the rail loadout is in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass.

McIntyre had submitted a Statement of Concern around the time when the AER issued the first Notice of Application for Riversdale, in January 2016. Today, he says his concerns remain the same, if not compounded.
McIntyre’s Statement of Concern will call attention to Grassy Mountain’s potential to damage headwaters, threaten the survival of native trout species and grizzly bears, deteriorate air and the aesthetic beauty of Crowsnest Pass, and increase noise pollution.

Living to the east, and thereby downwind, of the proposed project, McIntyre says he has already been bothered by a industrial noise from it, a “day-long droning” from the work that has gone on there in the past.
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With Council currently in the midst of 2018 budget deliberations, the tight purse strings of Crowsnest Pass are more evident than ever. Mayor of Crowsnest Pass Blair Painter says that the coal mine is integral to supplement the tax base.

“I believe that Riversdale will be a great asset to our community. It will offer job opportunities that aren’t within our community right now and will be a large addition to our industrial tax base, which we are very short on right now. Riversdale has shown that they want to be involved in and support our community,” says Mayor Painter. “I think they will be responsible corporate and environmental citizens and respect our community.

Currently, the residential contribution accounts for approximately 90% percent of the municipal tax base. This puts a heavy burden on the residents of Crowsnest Pass and the ability for Council to pursue new initiatives and facility renovations in the municipality. According to Cal Clarke, Manager of Sustainable Development with Riversdale Resources, it would take 9 fully booked Kanata Inn hotels to reach the same municipal tax revenue as from the load out alone.

That may be the case, but for McIntyre, he sees accepting a mine in the community as a sellout for money for a project that has a limited shelf life and believes that there are more sustainable, effective and long-term opportunities for increasing the tax income of Crowsnest Pass.

“I don’t know how much the people who are supporters of the mine are looking past the potential for someone to get rich. We need to backtrack on this whole thing. The people of the Crowsnest Pass have never been asked what they want for their future. We’ve never defined a future for ourselves; we have simply gone ahead and existed,” he says.

McIntyre moved to Crowsnest Pass 40 years ago, attracted by the pristine natural landscape and diverse flora and fauna native to the area.
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He says taking advantage of this “natural capital” is perhaps the easiest and most sustainable form of building our economy through tourism.

“We have the potential to be a phenomenal gateway community. Very close to us, we have Waterton Lakes National Park, with roughly 500,000 people a year, exceeding its capacity to provide services for the people who come there. Immediately south of the border is Glacier National Park with over 3 million people visiting this past year. Interestingly, the superintendents of those parks are asking us as community and the surrounding landscape to provide park-like opportunities for the people who are coming here because they can no longer handle this. They are looking to us to, in a sense, shoulder the burden, but also to shoulder and accept the revenue that would come from that,” he says.

And it’s not just tourists that the natural landscape attracts. McIntyre came as an “amenity migrant”, someone who moves to a region because they deem it more appealing than an urban environment, not for economic reasons. He says Crowsnest Pass has the opportunity to take advantage of retirees and others who, like him, are looking for a naturally pristine place to live.

According to McIntyre, amenity migrants and retirees constitute another untapped market for revenue.

“We have amenity migrants, baby boomers and people that are retiring coming in to move their businesses into a place they love that typically has pristine natural appeal,” says McIntyre, noting that the baby boomers are commonly known as the wealthiest generation. “As people get older, they suffer health-wise and we have a huge health budget. What are the spinoffs from that alone in this community, with doctors and nurses and specialists? It’s interesting to see how the health industry tends to follow amenity migrants and then provide well being for the community where it has a foundation.”
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McIntyre believes that capitalizing on this “hidden economy” and establishing a progressive, long-term vision for sustainable tourism in the area has the potential to make Crowsnest Pass a sort of “Teton County” of Alberta. Teton County, home of picturesque mountain valley Jackson Hole, is one of the richest per capita counties in the United States.

“The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has twice visited Crowsnest Pass to let us know that we, too, have a drop-dead-gorgeous land base, the precise foundation for this same brand of economic success, that we have the potential to become the perpetual business center and playground for billionaires, but only if we save and protect, aesthetically and ecologically, our priceless headwaters landscape and viewscape,” says McIntyre. “Instead of embracing the described vision, we’ve thrown it in the trash can and, in looking for a different future, embraced the feet of potential industrial developers, people who tend to promise wealth that, if it’s ever achieved, might be shared for its short shelf life with the community.”

Through attending various regional conferences and looking at empirical examples from around the world, McIntyre does not believe that tourism and industry can both prosper together. Pointing to nearby examples like Fernie and Whitefish, McIntyre notes their attempt – and success – at establishing themselves are tourist communities and preserving their natural landscape.

“It was so telling to me when we had the Mayor of Fernie and the Mayor of Whitefish talking about maintaining the quality of life and the landscape that they have, and then we had the Mayor of Crowsnest Pass talking about how we could have both industry and tourism and that one wouldn’t affect that other,” says McIntyre, referring to a Crown of the Continent Roundtable Conference he attended in 2016. “I asked the representatives from Fernie, “What would happen if you were to propose a coal loadout in the middle of this town?” which, interestingly enough, is surrounded by coal mining, and the answer is that they would be run out of town. I thought what was such a phenomenally interesting response from a community that by and large gets its money from coal.”
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McIntyre adds that one is hard-pressed to find a community that markets itself as both a coal mining town as well as a tourist hub and is successful at both.

Beyond Elkford, B.C. - which promotes itself as the “wilderness capital of British Columbia” and has a coal mine right next door - examples of communities where both mining and tourism prosper are not evident.

But John Kinnear, a third-generation coal miner, historian, and Crowsnest Pass local, still envisions it working in Crowsnest Pass. He says having a mine in the municipality is a “win-win.”

“I can see this community operating a mine and having all the tourism opportunities that exist here now, one totally unaffected by the other,” he says.

Kinnear recognizes the crucial role mining would play in the Crowsnest Pass economy.

“What bothers me most is our 90 percent residential tax base. We need a solid industrial contribution that is guaranteed to be there every year, something that the municipality can count on and utilize in a budgetary way,” he says. “But over and above that, the industrial tax base of $500,000 to $700,00 that would come through royalties and taxes is something that the community can count on for sure. Combined with that, Riversdale’s projection of 385 full time employees means that it’s bringing in families and children. It also brings a whole subculture of opportunity here locally for small businesses to develop and support the mine in whatever way. The Elk Valley mines are supported by dozens of locally operated contractors, many of which are homegrown”.

Tourism, he says, is an unstable and fluctuating economy that is subject to seasonal variations and yields periodic influxes of cash, not able to offer a steady stimulation of the economy alone.

He sees tourism playing the role of an added stream of revenue in Crowsnest Pass, in addition to the opportunities offered at the mine.

“It’s a win-win for me. It strengthens the community, it brings people into the community and it creates business opportunities,” he says.
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Back in 2013 when news that a mine was coming to the area was announced, Kinnear says he was “cautiously optimistic.” Now, as he has seen more of their plans and learned about their philosophy, he says he is “more optimistic” about the project.

Having informed himself on the procedural and operational front by being in contact with Riversdale, questioning their process, participating in tours and examining the landscape, Kinnear says he has very few concerns as to the Grassy Mountain Coal Project as it is proposed.

For over 30 years, Kinnear says he worked within strictly regulated safety and environmental guidelines in the Elk Valley coal mines and has seen first-hand the high standards maintained there.

“I fully trust that Riversdale has done a very comprehensive job of examining all the environmental aspects of their impact and how they will mitigate it,” he says. “I am acutely aware of the permitting that is applied to a mine for its air, water and dust suppression systems that are monitored and submitted to the government on a regular basis. You are bound to stay within certain guidelines.”

He adds that with the Canadian Pacific Railway running directly through the community, trains passing through Crowsnest Pass are common and he does not see one more rail discouraging tourists from visiting. Moreover, the trains for the coal loadout will be travelling at much lower speeds than the CP trains and Riversdale has indicated they intend to camouflage somewhat the rail loop area from the highway.

“The mine is remote enough that other than a loadout, there will be no apparent evidence of the mine here,” he says.

Kinnear concedes that there may be “some” disturbance to wildlife and water resources with the Grassy Mountain Coal Project - it is almost inevitable with a project of this scale and this degree of invasion – but disturbance does not mean destruction and it comes down to a compromise, looking at a bigger picture of the benefits and concessions.

“Within my 30 years of experience in the mines, incidents with the wildlife and the fisheries were extremely rare. I can count them on one hand. Wildlife thrived in and around the mine site, as long as we were mindful of how we handled ourselves in and around them,” he says. “My expectation is that there will be an important community legacy left behind by Riversdale and that the reclaimed mine property will return Grassy Mountain to a more natural state than exists today.”

The Grassy Mountain Coal Project will certainly leave a legacy, but whether it is one the community of Crowsnest Pass will thank it for remains to be seen.

Riversdale Resources’ complete application can be found on the CEAA website under reference no. 80101. Information about filing Statements of Concern can be found on the Alberta Energy Regulator website under application no. 1902073, where instructions on how to obtain a paper copy of the entire application are included.
December 6th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 49
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