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Local committee critical of Raven coal mine application

Eric Plummer, Alberni Valley Times, February 19, 2015

A committee assembled to evaluate the Raven coal mine's current application to provincial regulators gave a scathing report on the proposed project to city council on Tuesday.

With input from experts in marine life, birds and the socioeconomic affects of a large-scale development, the committee was formed this winter to inform the City of Port Alberni's role in a working group involved in the coal mine's application process. The Raven Underground Coal Project proposes to produce 1 million tonnes of metallurgical coal annually in the Comox Valley. The coal is planned to be trucked to Port Alberni for shipment oversees, daily traffic that would bring three loaded coal trucks an hour through Cathedral Grove.

The city last assessed the mine's application in 2013, when no gaps in information were identified by municipal officials. In May 2013 the project was rejected by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office due to a lack of consultation with First Nations and the public as well as other relevant information.

On Tuesday committee members Jane Armstrong and Maggie Paquet, who lobbied council to assemble the group, said that no changes could be found in the new application that address local concerns. The mine's parent company Compliance Energy has proposed to bring 50 jobs to the Alberni Valley tied to trucking operations, but Armstrong said there was no mention of these local positions in the recent application.

Mike Lewis, an economic specialist on the committee, said that the coal operations could threaten Port Alberni's ability to attract tourists.

"Tourism is perhaps the most vulnerable economic sector to a coal port," he stated in notes supplied to the committee, adding that tourism employs far more local people than coal shipping would. "The overall gross wages generated are over 13 times the value of the $1.5 million generated by all 21 jobs associated with the port."

The committee also concluded that the coal port could bring dust to the Inlet, harming marine life by cutting off light needed for photosynthesis.

"The major concern is any longer-term discharge of amounts of fine coal particulate matter that will cause a cumulative negative impact on the ocean bottom," stated fisheries biologist Otto Langer in his report for the committee.

Mayor Mike Ruttan asked if the coal trucking and port operation would cause home values to decline in Port Alberni, but Armstrong replied that the application does not address this concern.

The Raven Underground Coal Project is currently undergoing a 30-day review with the provincial regulator. If approved, a more in-depth 180-day assessment process will follow, beginning with 50 days of public input on the proposed mine. Seventy five percent of projects submitted to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office are approved. 250-723-8171

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