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Head of company behind Raven coal mine resigns

Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist, Sep4 2015

The head of the Vancouver company behind the proposed Raven coal mine near Courtenay has resigned just days after accusing B.C.’s environmental assessment office of bias.

Compliance Energy Corporation announced Thursday that Stephen Ellis had stepped down as president and chief operating officer “to pursue another opportunity.”

Board chairman Jim O’Rourke said in a statement that Ellis would continue as an adviser and assist with the transition until his successor is appointed.

“The company would like to thank Mr. Ellis for his dedicated and professional service as COO and wish him well in his new opportunity,” the statement said.

O’Rourke could not be reached for comment, and Ellis has not responded to interview requests since criticizing B.C.’s environmental assessment office in an Aug. 25 letter.

In the letter, Ellis said he saw little merit in sitting down with government officials to discuss further environmental assessment options for the proposed Raven mine, 20 kilometres south of Courtenay.

He said the environmental assessment office was “not treating the proposed Raven Underground Coal Project in a fair and transparent manner and that the project would never be able to achieve an [environmental assessment] certificate given the built-in biases in the review process.”

B.C.’s Environment Ministry defended the assessment office, saying the company had failed to provide a complete application after three years. “British Columbia’s environmental assessments involve a rigorous, thorough review,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is not possible for us to deliver such a review if we do not have all of the information that we require.”

The status of the project remains unclear in the wake of Ellis’s letter and his subsequent resignation.

The ministry said it’s reviewing possible options, including suspending or terminating the environmental assessment.

The project faces stiff opposition from community and watchdog groups that fear the mine will contaminate the environment.

Torrance Coste of the Wilderness Committee expressed hope that Ellis’s departure would be the “last straw” for project.

“Raven Coal has been a black cloud hanging over everyone’s heads for almost six years,” he said. “It’s time for that to go away, and I’m hoping this is the first step toward that.”

The Wilderness Committee and the CoalWatch Comox Valley Society have both called for the environmental assessment office to terminate the process.

Coste said Ellis’s letter sounded like a “parting shot” and not the type of correspondence expected from a company still interested in pursuing a project.

“While this company has done, by all accounts, a terrible job of building support, I don’t really think there’s much support that can be built by any company for a new coal mine on Vancouver Island.”

The project, if approved, would extract up to 1.1 million tonnes of coal per year during peak production with trucks, or possibly trains, carrying the product to Port Alberni for shipping to steel-making markets in Japan and South Korea.

The company said in 2012 that the project would contribute $1.1 billion to local economies and create about 350 full-time jobs over the 16-year life of the mine.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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