Teck held three open houses regarding the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (EVWQP) last week in the Elk Valley.
The open houses began at 4:30 pm with a presentation at 7 pm with a question and answer session in Elkford, Sparwood and Fernie.
“Approximately 20 people participated in consultation in Elkford, 30 people in Sparwood and 60 people in Fernie,” said Chris Stannell, Senior Communications Specialist, Teck Resources Limited.
At the open house in Fernie, a panel of five Teck employees and one member of the Technical Advisory Committee, Chair, Lynn Kriwoken, Executive Director Water Protection and Sustainability Branch from the B.C. Ministry of Environment plus facilitators Judy Kirk and associates from Kirk and Co. were present. The five Teck employees were Dan L’Heureux, Director of Water Strategy; Chris Stroich, Cumulative Effects; Matt Gay, Project Manager; Doug Brown, Public Affairs; and Michael O’Shaughnessy, Director Business Planning.
Casey Brennan, Teck Aboriginal Affairs Coordinator, led the presentation by reviewing the EVWQP Consultation Discussion Guide and feedback form. There were several questions from the members of the public who were present during the presentation at the Nov. 14 open house in Fernie. Questions of mitigation included discussion of two water diversions projects at the Elk Valley mine sites that failed largely due to the flooding in June 2013. Lack of bank stability due to slope angle is one reason these diversions have not been repaired. Teck is exploring synthetic membranes to cover waste rock piles to reduce contact with water but again slope poses a challenge for complete coverage. Finding a synthetic material that will last a long-term amount estimating 100 years is tough even if organic mater such as soil is placed over top of the liner to reduce solar degradation of the membrane.
Actual target levels for reduction and mitigation of various substances like selenium and nitrate are yet to be set. The second consultation phase is anticipated to be in March 2014. Teck is anticipating that the third and final phase of public consultation will be in May. This does not leave a lot of time for Teck to make changes to the plan that is due July 22, 2014.
This public consultation and development phase of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan is a small part of the Order Teck Coal Ltd. was issued by former B.C. Minister of Environment Terry Lake on April 15, 2013. Bound by section 89 of the Environmental Management Act Teck had 90 days to submit the plan’s Terms of Reference (TOR) for MOE’s approval. MOE approved of the Terms of Reference on July 22. Teck has 12 months to complete the plan, which directs them to include public input.
On March 21, 2013 the toxicity levels of the Elk River made front page news across B.C. as the results of a report commissioned by the Glacier National Park in Montana, U.S. clearly linked the effects of open pit coal mining on the water quality in the Elk Valley including Fording River, Elk River, and Lake Koocanusa. The Hauer and Sexton Transboundary Flathead River: Water Quality and Aquatic Life Use Report published on March 4, 2013 at the University of Montana stated that waterways in the Elk Basin below mine sites had elevated nitrate, sulfate and selenium concentrations levels.
“Nitrate and total nitrogen concentrations were significantly elevated (1000 times) at sites downstream of existing coal mining in the Elk Basin compared to what was observed either among all Flathead Basin sites or samples from Elk Basin sites above coal mines. Sulfate concentrations were also significantly elevated (40-50 times) in Elk Basin sites below coal mining. Selenium concentrations were elevated seven to 10 times above naturally occurring levels observed among Flathead Basin streams and rivers sites and Elk Basin sites above the coal mining.” Hauer and Sexton Report March 2013 -Executive Summary
The objective of the new EVWQ plan is to stabilize and reverse the increasing trend of selenium and other substances such as related to mining activity in the watershed. The key steps in developing the plan will eventually include setting medium and long-term water quality targets.
The Order states “The purpose of the Plan is to describe the operational actions which will be taken by Teck to immediately begin to stabilize water quality concentrations of selenium, cadmium, nitrate, and sulphate, and the rate of formation of calcite in the designated area.”
The feedback discussion guide did include that the new West Line Creek water treatment plant can remove 1.8 kg’s of selenium from 7,500 cubic meters of water per day once it is operational in 2014. However, the Order lists seven locations that target levels must be addressed immediately, and in the medium and long term.
“Public consultation for the second phase will be similar to the current phase, with the potential to adapt or improve the process based on what we learn from phase one,” said Stannell. “There will be numerous avenues for feedback through venues including open houses and online.
“The creation of the plan is a collaborative process involving a number of individuals at Teck with input from governments, First Nations, communities and other stakeholders.
“There will be three phases of public consultation. Input and feedback received from the public at each phase of consultation will be summarized by Kirk & Co., the independent consultation and engagement consultant assisting us with this process, in a Consultation Summary Report. The reports will be provided to Teck and will be submitted to the BC Ministry of Environment in conjunction with the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan and made available to the public. Input received will be considered along with technical and social-economic information in the development and refinement of the plan.”
Teck continues to ask for your feedback at www.teckelkvalley.com until Nov. 29. The Consultation Summary Report will be available at the same site once complete.