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Raven Coal proposal May Not Be Gone For Good, But We’re Winning the Social Licence Battle

Torrance Coste, DeSmog Canada, March 16 2015

This is a guest post by Torrance Coste, Vancouver Island campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, an organization working with local groups and individuals to stop the Raven Coal Mine.

Monday, March 2nd was a tense day for those of us monitoring the Raven Coal Mine proposal. After a 30-day screening period, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) was set to announce whether or not the application to mine close to 30 million tonnes of coal and rock in the Comox Valley would advance to final environmental review.

Then, just hours before the announcement, proponent Compliance Energy abruptly withdrew its application.

Frankly, this took us by surprise. The company’s first proposal was rejected by the EAO in May 2013 because it was missing hundreds of pages of required information. When Compliance made its resubmission earlier this year, the company stated it was confident that all previous shortcomings had been addressed and the application was complete.

But as we’ve seen with other controversial, ecosystem-threatening proposals — from the Northern Gateway pipeline to the New Prosperity Mine in Tsilhqot’in Territory — projects don’t move ahead if they don’t have social licence.

And on that front, Compliance Energy isn’t even close.

From day one, Raven has seen a groundswell of opposition on Vancouver Island, perhaps most fiercely in Fanny Bay, the shellfish-producing community located less than five kilometres downhill from the mine site.

John Snyder — president of CoalWatch Comox Valley, the scrappy grassroots society that has done tremendous work raising the alarm and unifying opposition to Raven — lives in Fanny Bay. For residents there, it’s all about water. Unless Compliance can guarantee that the mine won’t impact local water, John says there’s no way it can proceed. He and many others agree that this guarantee is impossible, so the mine is a non-starter for them.

And Fanny Bay is just the tip of the iceberg. No Coal Mine signs dot lawns, windows and telephone poles all across the Comox Valley. All four municipal governments in the area have passed motions opposing the proposal, and the K’ómoks First Nation has expressed concern about the mine’s impact on its treaty negotiations and shellfish interests.

From the mine, coal would be transported in some of the biggest trucks the Island has ever seen, over highways 19 and 4 to the Alberni Valley. Many in Port Alberni, including the Mayor, have questioned whether the minimal benefits of the port justify this sacrifice.

In its letter to the EAO, Compliance said it was withdrawing its application due to concerns about public “misinformation.” To date, only EAO staff and members of the project working groups have seen the revised proposal. If the application was thorough and complete like Compliance has promised, why not move ahead with the review and get the information out in the open?

Calling the public misinformed and then terminating one of the processes that would provide them with information is like claiming you’ve made an award-winning wine and dumping it all on the ground before anyone can taste it.

Environmental threats aside, the Wilderness Committee opposes Raven because it is the sort of utterly unsustainable development we need to be shifting away from on Vancouver Island. We need economic activity and employment opportunities, but all jobs aren’t created equal. We should prioritize activities that can continue on an indefinite or at least a long-term basis. We’ll strengthen our communities by building careers, not offering a couple years of work to a lucky few.

I know shellfish growers in Fanny Bay whose families have been in this industry for three or four generations. There are other sectors, like agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and even forestry, that can provide income and stability on a potentially infinite basis (if they’re given a chance and properly managed).

Coal mining is simply not one of these industries. Mines rarely last the span of even a single career — Compliance’s president has switched continents three times during his own. The Raven mine would operate for a maximum of sixteen years, after which any economic benefit would disappear forever.

The Raven mine has been a dark cloud over the Island since 2009. Passionate citizens have spent thousands of hours meeting, organizing and working to protect their home. It’s hard to say how many hours (and taxpayer dollars) have been spent dealing with the proposal at the EAO.

We’ll be waiting should Compliance re-submit its proposal yet again, as it has vowed it will. However, the project has never been less popular, and this latest withdrawal only strengthens our view that the proponent isn’t committed to the Island’s communities or our shared environment.

Compliance Energy doesn’t have public trust, and frankly, it doesn’t deserve it.

Twitter @TorranceCoste

Image Credit: B.C. Shellfish Growers Association

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