A colourful protest outside the Best Western Barclay Hotel greeted Compliance Coal CEO John Tapics as he prepared to give a keynote address to the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, Wednesday afternoon.
Ellen Chambers was one of 30 people who walked with signs and costumes protesting the Raven Coal Mine project.
Chambers said she organized the protest because she believes if the project is to be stopped, it is up to the people and not government officials to stop it.
“From the top down, they’ve squashed the process,” she said. “There’s no benefit to the community, the coal dust, wear and tear on roads and environmental impact aren’t worth the jobs or the taxes that will be gained.”
Port Alberni City Councillor Wendy Lee Kerr showed up to show solidarity with protestors.
“Personally, I don’t think a coal port here is a good idea,” Lee Kerr said. “I want a clean healthy community for our residents.”
Tapics has his forum inside the hotel but protesting outside of it gives people a chance to gel and speak out about a common concern.
“I know we’re trying to seek a new solution. But I don’t think coal is it.”
Inside, Tapics gave a project update and cleared up what he told the audience of more than 60 people are misconceptions about the project.
The project is moving from the pre-application phase to the finished application phase, but there are still several stages to go through, Tapics said.
A comprehensive study review is preferred over an independent review panel because it is more thorough, Tapics said.
There have been extensive public consultations regarding the project so far, including two open houses, three government public meetings and two public comment periods.
There have been consultations with 20 first nations including the Tseshaht First Nations council, Tapics said. Further talks about economic development opportunities, as well as about adverse impact mitigation measures are planned, he added.
More than $15 million has been spent on the project so far. “We intend to see this project through in an environmentally and socially responsible manner,” Tapics said.
With respect to transporting coal in by rail, government needs to invest more into shoring up rail infrastructure to accommodate commercial loads. If not, “We’ll stick with the truck option,” he said.
The company is aware of concerns about hauling coal through Alberni, so it is looking at alternate transportation routes, such as a new road connecting Comox with Alberni.
Compliance is committed to a covered operation at the harbour in Port Alberni, he said. Coal will be transported to the holding facility through a covered chute. “There isn’t really the potential for dust,” he said.
At the harbour, a modest amount of dredging will be required. The area is just over nine metres deep and more depth is needed to accommodate Panamax freighters.
Core samples have been taken from the dredging area and results are pending. If the samples show significant chemical material, then the company will ensure that they are dealt with in compliance with the appropriate regulations.
In response to a question about reimbursing the city for road wear and tear, Tapics said the facility will be located within the municipal boundary and will pay municipal taxes, therefore it will contribute to infrastructure costs.
Tapics presentation was more of the same, CoalWatch Comox Valley Society president John Snyder, who was in attendance, said.
“If this was a recipe for dinner then they left out a lot of ingredients and it isn’t going to be a very good dinner,” Snyder said.
It’s clear that the coal will come likely by truck instead of rail. As well, that the coal will be shipped out from the deep sea port and not from any further down the canal, Snyder added.
“Tapics said there wold be a one to two year delay in the environmental process if that were to happen.”
A final decision on the project is a long way off yet and a looming provincial election in 2013 could be a game changer, Snyder said.
“That could very well have a significant bearing on this,” Snyder said.