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Northwest B.C. coal mine reaches Environmental Assessment application milestone

If EA is approved, company projects production to start in 2026
The Telkwa coal mine in 1947. (BC archives)

A bid to reestablish coal mining in Telkwa has reached a major milestone.

In an announcement Feb. 24, Telkwa Coal announced it has filed its Environmental Assessment Certificate Application to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.

“While it is 15 months past our original target date, I cannot stress the enormity of reaching this milestone,” said Mark Gray, Telkwa Coal CEO. “A combination of prudence and caution in preparing the application coupled with a voluntary nine-month pause in the pre-application phase of the process by Telkwa Coal, at the request of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW), were key reasons for the delay.”

Gray noted that because of the consultation with the OW, the company feels its application is more robust. Furthermore, the process resulted in a project assessment agreement that will ensure the OW participation in the review of the application.

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The B.C. review process is nine months according to the Environmental Assessment Act. By regulation, it includes one to two months of screening, six months of review and two months for a decision by the environment and energy, mining and natural resources ministries, respectively.

“While the review process is time regulated, the experience of other applications tells us that it does take longer than nine months,” the Feb. 24 release stated. “How long will depend on the quality of the application we have submitted.”

The Interior News has reached out to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, but has not yet received a response.

If an environmental certificate is issued, the company will be able to apply for its mine and environmental management permits. The current project schedule estimates having those permits by the second quarter of 2024, followed by a year and a half of mine construction with operations beginning in 2026.

The company estimates a 2o-year lifespan for the mine, which it says will employ 170 full-time equivalent employees and support 255 full-time equivalent indirect jobs.

Not everyone is happy with the progress of the project, however. Both the What Matters in Our Valley (WMIOV) and Smithers Climate Action (SCA) groups also recently released statements opposing Telkwa Coal.

WMIOV’s objection focuses primarily on perceived threats of acid rock drainage to the Telkwa River specifically and the Skeena watershed more generally.

SCA is more focussed on climate change and the transition to a clean energy economy.

Both groups, however, think it’s a bad idea, with the world transitioning away from coal, to be bringing a new open-pit coal mine to the valley.

“Should we be enabling the continued production of coal under these circumstances?,” the WMIOV asks. “What happens when the mine is abandoned as a stranded asset? Who pays to keep the acid rock drainage and heavy metals from polluting the Telkwa River? Once it’s exposed, this type of pollution must be contained forever.”

SCA took a similar stance.

“Telkwa Coal is planning to sell a product that is being phased out. As a community, we would be wise to ask ourselves if developing an open-pit coal mine with a doubtful future is an acceptable risk to take on for the rivers, the surrounding environment, and the community.”

The company says these concerns are addressed by their reclamation and monitoring plans.

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Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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