Alberni opponent applies heat to coal issue

Government officials met with some but not all stakeholder groups, Raven underground coal mine critics say.

Numerous organizations are calling on senior government officials for a rigorous environmental assessment of the proposed Raven underground coal mine in Baynes Sound, complete with a broad-based public consultation process.

Their demand was prompted by the release of the Application Information Requirements (AIR) — a major part of Compliance Energy’s bid to establish coal mining operations on Vancouver Island.

“This proposed mine puts at risk many of the things that Vancouver Islanders value, such as our productive salmon runs, tourism base and the Baynes Sound shellfish industry,” said John Snyder of CoalWatch Comox Valley.

“There have been overwhelming concerns regarding the project, and it is imperative that the environmental assessment process creates space for meaningful public dialogue.”

In what they call an “unusual move,” the coalition of trade unions, community and environment groups said government representatives met with Courtenay and Port Alberni residents to garner feedback about the structure of a coming public comment period for the mine.

While certain groups were invited, some were also notable by their absence.

“We are concerned that many community organizations in Port Alberni were not invited to the meeting,” said Maggie Paquet, a director of the Citizens’ Stewardship Coalition in Port Alberni, who notes 28 groups from “both sides of the hump” signed a letter to government.

“The repercussions to public health and fisheries are among just two important issues that we could face if we became a coal port town. Imagine what would happen if we had two small mountains of coal in the harbour and another tsunami came up the inlet?”

The letter recommends ways to remove barriers to participate in the public comment process. The groups, for instance, would like to see improved systems for submitting and tracking comments, and a full schedule of five public town hall meetings.

The proposed project is undergoing a federal and provincial environmental review that includes four public comment periods.

“The fact that over 1,800 people made submissions during the federal government’s public comment period for the environmental assessment, and the diverse array of community groups that are signing on to this letter, including the BC Shellfish Growers Association and the Port Alberni and District Labour Council, gives you a sense of how widespread concern about Raven is all over the Island,” said Tria Donaldson, Pacific Coast campaigner of the Wilderness Committee.

“It is crucial that the public gets an adequate opportunity to voice their concerns.”

According to Compliance Coal Corporation, studies indicate the mine could create 200 construction jobs, 335 full-time mine, port and transportation jobs, and another 500 indirect jobs in and around Port Alberni and the Comox Valley.

Raven Project CEO John Tapics has said the average employee would make about $100,000 a year, including benefits.