Much remains in the air with regards to a potential metallurgical coal mine 21 kilometres north of Elkford.
For many years the Bingay Main Coal Project proposal by Centermount Coal Limited has been underway, and has since received a fair amount of opposition. Both council and community have vocalized their concerns, mainly with regards to environment, increased truck traffic and noise pollution.
Centermount proposes the extraction of one million tonnes of metallurgical coal annually over a 13-year lifespan.
District of Elkford council raised concerns in December 2017 about a lack of answers provided by the company, in particular with regards to the future of Blue Lake, a popular recreation spot that the mining company proposes to fill as a result of the project. They also highlighted concerns about selenium leaching into water systems, effects of rail systems on animal migration patterns, and more.
The Free Press previously reported in March of 2018 that a petition rallying against the proposed mine by Elkford residents had received over 400 signatures. This came three months after Kootenay-East MLA Tom Shypitka met with locals who raised concerns about the project.
Around the same time, Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher said that although he was personally opposed to the Bingay Mine, if it would benefit Elkford and not damage the community in any way, then he is open for discussion. His reason for not supporting was because he felt Centermount did not have a concrete plan in place. That being said, he stressed that he was leaving the doors open for negotiation.
The petition, started in January 2018, has since received about 700 signatures.
Over a year later in October 2019, Kootenay-East MLA Tom Shypitka’s office reached out to Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, George Heyman, for a status update on the project.
Heyman explained that since 2012, Bingay has been involved in an environmental assessment (EA) process. In April 2013, Centermount put the Bingay EA on hold until October 2016. In late 2017, a pubic comment period was held on the draft Value Components Selection Document with an open house taking place in Elkford in November 2017.
He explained that following the public comment period, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) received over 250 comments, many related to potential adverse project impacts to water quality, traffic and dust, wildlife, recreation and tourism values.
In February 2018, the EA again became inactive, at which time Centermount indicated they were seeking investors for Bingay. In July 2018, Centermount signed a data use agreement with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to access Teck data from their regional water quality model.
About one year later, the EAO requested an update from Centermount on their plans to continue the EA. They informed Centermount at the time that long delays from baseline collection to application submission can result in a need to update studies.
They have since received no response from Centermount.
Heyman explained that the mining company currently has a Section 11 order that sets out the procedures of the EA process and the Indigenous consultation required. He further explained that their office expects the new Environmental Assessment Act will come into force in late 2019. Under the transition provisions of the new Act, Centermount can notify the EAO within a certain amount of time whether they wish to continue under the existing or new EA Act. If the EAO does not receive a response or should the EA not be concluded within three years, Bingay will be reviewed under the new act.
Since 2012, Bingay has been the subject of a federal EA review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012. With the passing of a new federal Impact Assessment Act, Bingay is now under the threshold for a federal review.
However, Heyman explained that the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change can designate such projects as requiring a federal EA review if, in the Minister’s opinion, the project may cause adverse effects within federal jurisdiction or adverse direct or incidental effects, or if public concern related to those effects warrants a designation.
Heyman further explained that in regards to potential trans-boundary water quality effects associated with Bingay, the Ktunaxa Nation Council has voiced their strong preference for a federal EA to continue.
He said the EAO has, and will continued to coordinate the EA of Bingay with the federal EA review.