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No review panel for proposed Raven coal mine

Spencer Anderson, Comox Valley Echo, November 19, 2010

The proposed Raven Underground Coal Mine Project will not be sent to a joint federal/provincial expert review panel, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced on Wednesday.

The news came after the CEAA said they did not identify any "significant adverse environmental effects" that may result from the proposed project after standard mitigation measures had been applied.

Opponents of the proposed mine will, however, be able to apply for a portion of a $100,000-fund issued from the CEAA participant funding program, which individuals or groups could use to participate in the federal review process.

CoalWatch Comox Valley president John Snyder said his organization plans on applying for some of the money, and added that he was not surprised the proposed project was not sent to a review panel.

He said CoalWatch had already received a letter from then-environment minister Jim Prentice, which said a review panel would not be implemented at that time.

The proposed project is currently undergoing a comprehensive environmental assessment by both the federal and provincial governments.

Opponents of the mine, including CoalWatch and environmental lawyers from the University of Victoria, have asked for an independent expert review panel of the project, which would be chosen by the federal environment minister, John Baird.

The minister could choose to implement an expert panel if he felt public concerns or adverse environmental effects warranted a review process in addition to the traditional environmental assessment process.

Compliance Coal Corporation, the company that wants to develop the mine, as well as a coarse and fine rejects rock dump to go with it, issued a press release on Wednesday quoting the CEAA as saying the CEAA "and other federal departments have not identified significant adverse environmental effects that may result from the project after applying standard mitigation measures."

But Snyder said that only tells part of the story.

"Although at this time it doesn't seem like they're going to refer it to a review panel, they have the option to do it at any time," he said, adding the "door was still open" on the possibility.

"We're not happy about it, but at the same time ... we're going to keep on pressing for it ... and identifying the issues regarding the project," said Snyder.

Futhermore, Snyder said he was optimistic that the environment minister could grant CoalWatch's request, noting that about 1,900 public comments had been received by the EA since the public comment period began, many of them critical of the project.

CEAA spokeswoman Maxine Leger-Haskell said the environmental assessment was still in its early stage, and said that while the project would not be referred to a review panel now, it could potentially be referred to one down the road.

"Sometimes another reason that something can get referred to panel, as many people have said, is public comments related to environmental effects," Leger-Haskell said. "So if public comments bring up other adverse environmental effects that we may not have been aware of, or underscore the importance of these and we do further studies, then that could be another reason for referral to panel."

The proposed mine would be located 20 kilometres south of Courtenay, with the majority of the development concentrated in the Cowie Creek drainage, which flows into Baynes Sound.

Compliance Coal estimates the project's construction would create 200 construction jobs and 335 full-time mining jobs, plus 500 "indirect" jobs. The company also says the project would generate $30 million in wages for workers and produces 44 million tonnes of raw coal and rock over its 20-year lifespan.

But those opposed to the proposed mine say it could cause irreversible damage to the local aquaculture industry, water and air quality, tourism industry, fish habitat and safety of roads, among other concerns.

Industrial geologists Herbert Sullivan and David Hughes have questioned the long-term economic viability of the project.

© Comox Valley Echo 2010