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Coffee with ... John Snyder

Scott Stanfield, Comox Valley Record, January 20 2016

As the winner of the Wilderness Committee’s 2015 Eugene Rogers Environmental Award, John Snyder is sharing a place with the likes of local conservationist Ruth Masters and biologist Alexandra Morton.

He is also $1,000 richer, but the money didn’t land in his bank account. Instead, Snyder is putting it into the account of the CoalWatch Comox Valley Society, which he has served as president for several years.The award — named after the late New Westminster conservationist — recognizes Snyder’s leadership of the organization that has steadfastly opposed the Raven underground coal mine. The project is being proposed for a site near Fanny Bay, where Snyder resides.

“I was dumbfounded,” Snyder said of receiving the award. “I viewed it more as a cumulative award for a lot of people, their commitment over the last six years, rather than just me.”

Snyder and his wife, Sheila Clarson, moved to the Island in 2007, the year he retired from driving trucks in Alaska.

Snyder originally hails from San Diego. At age 18, in the summer 1965, he moved to Alaska to work construction, rebuilding what was destroyed in a 9.2 earthquake.

“I ended up spending 42 years up there.”

He mostly made his living as a Teamsters truck driver.

“I’m a continuous, dues paying member of the Teamsters for 45 years. I was young and bullet-proof. It was kind of the last frontier.”

He obtained his pilot’s licence in 1969, and purchased a “fly-in only” property west of Anchorage, where he built a cabin on a lake and lived about five years.

He met Sheila in the ‘90s in Alaska, where she had a recreational sled dog team. They have no children, but they do have a two-year-old Husky mix named Tal, an SPCA rescue dog.

“He’s brought us a lot of joy. He has a forever home with us.”

Snyder considers himself lucky to be living in Fanny Bay, which he says has a “great community spirit.”

He and Sheila first heard about the proposed mine in 2009 at an open house at the Fanny Bay community hall. Later, during a townhall meeting, he decided to throw his hat in the ring — and wound up as president of the non-profit CoalWatch. The group was formed to advocate for independent research and public participation.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Snyder said. “The silver lining for me is that I’ve been able to work with some extraordinary people in this community.”

If and when the Raven project is put to bed, Snyder will move on to the next issue.