Skip to content

Crown Mountain Coking Coal Project passes latest stage of federal review, public and indigenous consultation to follow

NWP Coal Canada Ltd. will turn its focus to consultation with First Nations and the general public
Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it and NWP Coal Canada Ltd. signing the memorandum for a consent agreement that allows Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it to act as regulator and reviewer of the Crown Mountain project (Photo courtesy Crown Mountain Coking Coal Project)

A proposed new coal mine near Sparwood has taken a step forward, reaching another regulatory milestone.

The Crown Mountain Coking Coal Project has passed another stage of review with the federal government and is gearing up to enter into further consultation with Indigenous Nations and discussion with the general public.

NWP Coal Canada Ltd. announced Jan. 16 that its Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Assessment Application had passed the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada’s conformity review process and that its next step will involve reaching out to stakeholders and communities to get feedback.

“We’re pretty excited to be at this stage. We’re still moving forward,” said director of project development Dave Baines.

This transition marks a significant milestone for NWP Coal. Baines noted that the environmental assessment process has been 10 years in the making, and that as far as he is aware of, Crown Mountain has been the only major proposed coal project in Canada to reach this phase in the approval process.

The journey is far from over, however, given that the technical review phase will take another two years at the very least. Then, if approval is granted from federal and provincial governments, NWP Coal can apply for permits.

The Crown Mountain Coking Coal Project would be located in the West Alexander Valley, northeast of Elkview and south of Line Creek, and would produce roughly two million tonnes of metallurgical coal annually for a period of 15 years. It would provide 500 jobs with 330 full-time positions.

Going forward, the NWP will be consulting with the government and conservation groups, and a variety of Indigenous parties including Ktunaxa and Secwepemc First Nations and the Blackfoot Confederacy. It will also engage with organizations south of the boarder like the Department of Environmental Quality, Kootenai Tribes of Idaho, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

“The document we have includes a lot of input from them at this point, but this public comment period is where they can get on the record to the regulators with any concerns they don’t feel we’ve addressed in the document to date,” said Baines.

There will be an additional legislated 30-day period in February where the public can weigh in on the project. There will be two open houses hosted by the provincial and federal governments — one in Cranbrook on Feb. 13 and the other in Sparwood on Feb. 14. There will also be a virtual open house on Feb. 21.

NWP Coal will be hosting additional meetings in Elkford on Feb. 17, Crowsnest Pass on Feb. 20 and Fernie on Feb. 26.

Attendees will be able to talk to the government directly or file feedback online. Details on location will be announced closer to the date.

Last year, Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it (Tobacco Plains Indian Band) entered into a consent agreement with NWP to act as regulator and reviewer of the Crown Mountain project, a partnership that Chief Heidi Gravelle said was was a big leap forward in the reconciliatory process.

“It’s never been done before. We’re hoping it really sets precedent … This should be a standard and this should be a legislated standard that every First Nation gives consent before anything is done to or in our territories,” she said.

Gravelle said they have their own independent consultants and land stewardship experts that have been weighing in on the coking project and holding NWP environmentally accountable. She said they would like to see the project meet their environmental standards in regards to water and land.

“We want to ensure that our lands are healed enough to where we can say that they will be in use for the next seven generations. Without our lands, we don’t have our people,” she explained.

The fate of the mine essentially rests on Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it. If they do not approve, then the project cannot go forward.

“If it’s accepted by our people, then NWP can go ahead and do their project. If at any time, Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it does not give consent, then they will pull out.”

A major item on the Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it agenda is protecting Grave Prairie, a culturally and archaeologically significant area to Ktunaxa First Nation. Gravelle said that Grave Prairie is not located where the Crown Mountain Coking Coal site has been proposed, but that it is situated near a potential coal shipping point. She added that Ktunaxa First Nation would not agree to industrial activity on this site.

Gravelle said that Yaq’it?a·knuqi ‘it and NWP both bring different perspective to the table, and that generally NWP has been open to hearing their opinions.

“They’re very open and transparent,” she stated.

Baines said he attributes NWP Coal’s success in passing certain stages of the approval process to its willingness to collaborate with indigenous nations and local stakeholders.

“The ownership are very focused on being collaborative and cooperative with local communities, First Nations groups and trying to work with people,” he said.

Baines said the company has proposed a few strategies that could be used to lessen environmental footprint, including source control, which involves keeping as much selenium in the rock as possible so that it doesn’t leach into the water and environment, and active treatment, which requires the removal of contaminants before water is released outside the mine.

He also remarked there would be additional environmental challenges involving wildlife, particularly grizzly bears and Westslope cutthroat trout. Grizzly bear habitat has been threatened and Westslope cutthroat trout populations have declined as a result of mining operations.

Nevertheless, he said that coal is an important part of the economy and that NWP is making an effort to keep up with modern industry standards.

“At global coal conferences, the thought is is that in a few years they’ll be a global coal shortage. It’s because mines aren’t coming online and old mines are going to close,” he said.

“We’re able to take all the lessons learned by [other mining] operations through the decades and apply them before we start. It really is changing the approach, because we can use all the lessons learned from others right away.”

About the Author: Gillian Francis

Read more