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Trucking only option for mine

Eric Plummer, Alberni Valley Time, Jan 22 2014

Company behind the Raven coal mine estimates railway transport to Valley would cost $300 million

The proposed Raven coal mine would increase traffic through Cathedral Grove by three loaded trucks an hour, but bring 70 jobs to the Alberni Valley, says the mining company's vice-president.

This detail is part of the application Compliance Energy plans to submit to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office by the end of March. Compliance was rejected by the provincial regulator last May, but is putting together another application, which it said addresses all deficiencies in last year's 12,000-page submission to the environmental assessment office.

"They said that we need to address some more First Nations consultations, some more public consultation," said Stephen Ellis, vice-president of operations for Compliance Energy. "We believe that information was in there but wasn't found."

Ellis said the new application focuses on making the necessary information more readily available, including feedback from 3,000 responses the mining company received during a public information period in 2011. Provincial regulators required consultations with 20 aboriginal groups, and Compliance has so far met with 18.

"First Nation consultation is never complete, so it's an ongoing process," Ellis added.

The Raven Underground Coal Project would be developed in the Comox Valley, producing 1 million tonnes of coal annually over 16 years. The coal is metallurgical - used for making steel - and would be shipped oversees to markets in Japan and South Korea, via Port Alberni. Compliance, which was specifically formed to develop the Raven mine, expects the development will create approximately 70 jobs in the Alberni Valley, including 20 at the port facilities and 50 involved in transporting coal to Port Alberni.

Compliance plans to move the mine's product by trucks along Highway 4 through MacMillan Park with three eight-axle trucks an hour, measuring approximately 40 metres each. The company previously stated on its website that "transporting by rail is still an option if the community prefers it and it is cost competitive to trucking." But recent information from firms Compliance consulted show upgrading the railway line running from the Comox Valley to Port Alberni would cost $300 million, making the mine unfeasible.

"The latest estimates, in terms of getting that rail system open and operational, would rule out any project," Ellis said. "We can't partake in that."

The Raven coal mine has met considerable public opposition, including safety concerns from having more than 70 coal-filled trucks on Cathedral Groves' winding roads each day.

"Just that increase is going to cause some congestion. It's going to cause some safety concerns, especially in winter months," said Alberni Valley resident Chris Alemany.

Alemany still believes that rail transportation is the only option for the tonnage that would come from the mine.

"You're just going to end up with trucks that are backed up and people that are backed up behind them."

Ellis estimates the trucks needed to transport from the mine would increase Highway 4 traffic by five per cent, bringing volume closer to previous levels when industry was busier in the Alberni Valley.

"If you think of the decrease of industry in Port Alberni in logging, paper and so on over the last few years, then that will probably replace the traffic that's been lost in the last 10, 15 years," he said.

"The trucks will be covered, there will be no dust coming off them, they will be newer trucks, they will have no exhaust brakes."

Compliance Energy expects that it will take regulators most of the year to reach a decision on the next application. This includes a 50-day period for public input and open information sessions to address questions and concerns with the proposed mine. 250-918-9800

© Alberni Valley Times