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Lawsuit of the week: Raven coal mine project unlawfully sacrificed on the altar of B.C. government’s natural gas pipe dream, coal company claims

Business in Vancouver, March 28, 2017

Compliance Coal Corp. is suing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEEA) and the federal and provincial governments, claiming the approval process for a coal mining ...

Compliance Coal Corp. is suing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEEA) and the federal and provincial governments, claiming the approval process for a coal mining project on Vancouver Island was so convoluted that it was impossible for the company to satisfy.

Compliance filed a notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on March 14, against the CEEA, the Attorney General of Canada and Her Majesty the Queen in right of British Columbia. The company claims it spent several years and nearly $20 million on its bid for approval for the Raven coal mine in the Comox Valley after acquiring a swath of Crown land grants in 2005.

According to the claim, Crown land grants are defined as “private property” not subject to the Mineral Tenure Act, though taxes, levies and assessments by the Province fall under the Mineral Land Tax Act.

Compliance claims its application for an environmental assessment certificate met and surpassed requirements for approval and should have been granted, but the project was scuttled due to “unknown changes in political policies,” the claim states.

During the approval process Compliance claims that a “working group” convened to evaluate the project excluded the company while including parties who were publically and “violently” opposed to coal mine development. Moreover, the defendants allegedly set conditions and requirements that “all but ensured the failure” of the company’s application and wrongfully treated the project as if it was proposed to operate on Crown land rather than private property.

“No applicant could have reasonably been expected to meet such a voluminous set of conditions and requirements,” the claim states.

By March 2015, the company claims it had spent four years and more than $19 million attempting to comply with the assessment process. That month, Minister of Environment Mary Polak announced the government was pursuing a policy to promote B.C. natural gas abroad while other resource projects “may ‘have to be sacrificed,’” the claim states.

Soon after that announcement, Compliance president Steve Ellis got a phone call from Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who allegedly said the company’s application would be rejected if it didn’t voluntarily withdraw, and didn’t provide any reason or explanation for the demand.

“The demand, as made by Minister Bennett, caused a destruction of the rights that had been granted to Compliance by the Province as contained in the Crown Land Grants,” the claims states.

The company claims its losses mount to millions, including the $9 million spent buying the Crown land grants, $11 million spent proving the coal resources and feasabillity of the project, $19.655 million on the environmental assessment, $600,000 on registering the land grants in the name of a subsidiary and losses of the project’s asset value estimated at $297 million.

Compliance Coal Corp. seeks damages for nuisance, negligence, misfeasance in public office, nuisance, expropriation and interference with its land grant rights.

The allegations have not been tested or proven in court, and the defendants had not filed responses by press time.