Secondary links

Raven Coal application was about to be booted, says Tseshaht

Shane Morrow, Ha-Shilth-Sa, March 5 2015

Port Alberni — A Tseshaht representative on the Raven Coal Working Group believes parent company Compliance Energy Corporation withdrew its application for an environmental assessment because it was almost certain to be rejected by the province. On March 2, in a letter to the associate deputy minister of the Environment, Compliance CEO Stephen Ellis advised that he was withdrawing the application on the basis of “misinformation that is circulating in some communities.”

First Nations Wildcrafters co-owner Keith Hunter sits on the Working Group that oversees the environmental review process for the controversial project that would see coal mined in the Comox Valley transported to Port Alberni by truck. This was the second application, he noted.

“In 2013, the EAO (Environmental Assessment Office) determined that the application was incomplete – that it needed additional information, and that the consultation requirements [with First Nations] had not been met,” Hunter said.

The EAO provided Compliance with detailed instructions on how to meet the deficiencies and to conduct a satisfactory consultation process.

“So in October of 2014, Compliance re-submitted the application for screening to the Working Group. We were waiting for the EAO to receive it.”

Once an application is received by the EAO, it undergoes a 30-day screening process. Hunter said Compliance postponed submitting the application to the EAO several times, then on March 2, announced they were withdrawing the application for the time being.

Ellis said Compliance was still confident that the project would go ahead, and that the application could be re-submitted at a future date.

Contacted by Ha-Shilth-Sa on March 3, Ellis would not specify the nature of the “misinformation”, or which community it originated in.

“I am not at liberty to say until we get some more information,” the CEO said. “Certainly, the misinformation is out there, and whether that is influencing the Working Group or not, we decided it was appropriate to withdraw our application at this moment.”

Hunter said one of the ongoing problems for the Working Group has been a pattern of discrepancies in the information that Compliance has presented as part of the review process.

Most specifically, he said, the company identified potential dangers in the dredging process that would be required to allow Panamax-class bulk carriers to use the Port Alberni loading terminal.

The harbour floor contains a historic “fibre mat” of kraft mill effluent that contains environmental contaminants and is considered hazardous to disturb.

“Their own geotechnical studies said they could collapse the port,” Hunter said. “And their own studies acknowledged that there was the potential for contamination in the food chain from PCBs. But then, when it carries over from one part of the project to the next, they don’t mention it.”

In his letter to the Environment Ministry, Ellis stated that Compliance Energy had spent “more than $20 million dollars” on the environmental evaluation of the project. Ellis was asked if the Raven Coal assessment process was in danger of becoming a long-term revenue-generating vehicle in its own right.

“We don’t want that to happen. We want the support of the community to build a mine that will benefit Vancouver Island,” he replied.

“They’ve spent $20 million on this project on something. And what that something was was management fees and consultant costs,” Hunter said. “And of all the money they have spent on the studies and things – and I say this as the representative for Tseshaht – our position on this last application screening was that they had still not met the application and information requirements.”

Hunter added that Compliance had also failed to meet its duty, as delegated by the Crown, to consult with Tseshaht. He said that came to a head when he looked at a section of the assessment document involving potential impacts to Tseshaht marine resources.

“I finally said, ‘You guys are just not taking First Nations concerns seriously,’” he said. “Tseshaht has not been adequately consulted on accommodation. Nothing has changed.”

In the wake of Ellis’ March 2 letter to the ministry, speculation about the financial situation of Compliance Energy has arisen. Of particular note has been an outstanding bill of $112,000 (with taxes) payable to the EAO.

Ellis denied speculation that the company withdrew the application to avoid paying the EAO fee, saying it was payable in any event.

Calling it “confidential information,” Ellis said he would not comment on a $936,000 “working capital deficit” in the September 2014 Compliance Energy Corporation Financial Statement.

(As a publicly-owned corporation, the Compliance Energy financial statement is available on the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval website.)

“We run as a business and we do not run in a deficit,” Ellis said.

Hunter said a statement to the CBC from the EAO puts the March 2 withdrawal into clearer focus.

"Following a careful review, we advised Compliance Coal of issues that we identified with their application for the Raven Underground Coal project and they have decided to withdraw it," the EAO statement read.

“This leads me to believe that Compliance removed their application from the screening so that the decision that was to be made public by the EAO that same day was not released,” Hunter wrote Ha-Shilth-Sa late Tuesday evening.