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K'ómoks Band opposing coal mine

Philip Round, Comox Valley Echo, June 28, 2011

K'ómoks First Nation has come out in opposition to the proposed Raven Coal Mine near Fanny Bay.

It not only has serious concerns over the environmental impact a mine could have, but also believes the project will be harmful to ongoing K'ómoks treaty negotiations and aboriginal rights.

The Band's chief negotiator, Mark Stevenson, told the Echo they were looking to become owner of 90 hectares (220 acres) of Crown land between the proposed mine site and Fanny Bay as part of an eventual treaty settlement.

He said any mine would "severely restrict the use of any land added to the K'ómoks land deal" in treaty talks.

While the land in question was not that on which the surface buildings and workings of the mine are proposed, Stevenson said issues like the quality of the local aquifers and creeks in the immediate area were crucial to the K'ómoks people as well as many others.

The Band is particularly concerned about the potential impact on the Tsable River and Cowie Creek drainage systems, as water rights on those two watercourses are part of ongoing negotiations.

"The environmental impact of the mine on these two systems is unknown," said Stevenson.

And while a detailed probe on the issues might become one part of the environmental assessment process, he noted studies carried out would be commissioned by the mine's proponents "and I don't expect them to be absolutely neutral."

In addition, waters from the Tsable and Cowie Creek empty in to Baynes Sound, where the Band already has significant shellfish aquaculture interests - and expects to add more when a treaty is signed.

Stevenson claimed the promoters of the mine had shown no interest in discussing or accommodating KFN aboriginal and treaty rights to date.

Yet some third party groups had the impression that the K'ómoks First Nation was a supporter of the mine proposals, he noted.

"We want to set the record straight," he said. "We cannot support any project that hurts K'ómoks' long-term interests."

And he warned that once assessments of the potential impact of the mine were complete, the Band would take "a series of steps" if KFN concerns were not listened to.

He would not elaborate on what these would or could be, but commented: "It depends on their reaction. We have genuine, serious concerns and they must be addressed."

© Comox Valley Echo 2011