Coal panel wants input, not votes for or against

Community-based issues regarding shipping coal out of Port Alberni were heard, but whether they’ll be acted on is another matter.

Nearly 400 people packed the environmental assessment public comment session held at the Alberni Athletic Hall last Thursday to ask questions about the proposed Raven Coal Mine in Fanny Bay.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and BC Environmental Assessment office hosted the event.

It’s early in the planning phase of the joint assessment, CEA official Andrew Rollo said.

Officials were clear that they were soliciting comments on the draft Environmental Assessment Act and Environmental Impact Statement guidelines.

“A vote for or against a proposed project, rather than comments on the draft AIR/EIS guidelines has only limited value…” a question sheet handed out noted.

“We’re here to get information, we don’t have it yet, that’s what we’re here for,” Rollo said.

More than 60 people signed up for the chance to speak for two minutes each during the four-hour comment period.

Port Alberni and District Labour Council president Kelly Drybrough asked about trucking coal here, saying that information he’d seen leaned towards trucks.

“Are you willing to pick up the bill to fix these roads that are already rutted more than Mount Washington’s snow moguls?” he asked.

Compliance Energy president and CEO John Tapics replied that an informal truck count was done that counted 46 trucks pass into town through the course of a day.

Shipping coal into town would increase that traffic by two to three trucks per hour, he added.

A pavement impact and rail analysis would be done but taxes paid by the port authority to the city already pays for road maintenance, Tapics said.

City manager Ken Watson inquired about the process going to a joint independent assessment panel.

He also inquired about rail, which he admitted didn’t look feasible at this time.

The CEA “…is not of the opinion that a panel is warranted on this project,” Rollo said.

But the federal minister can refer the matter to a panel at any point in the process, he added.

If the Island Corridor Foundation can come forward with a plan that is technically feasible and cost competitive “..then we would look at using rail instead of trucks,” Tapics said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com