The Elk River is home to a world-class fishery. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

North Coal information session highlights water quality plans

It’s been a high priority at North Coal that water and environmental considerations are put up front.

North Coal Limited, an emerging metallurgical coal company in Sparwood, B.C., held an information session on Thursday at the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. The company is focused on exploring for, and eventually producing, metallurgical coal from its proposed Michel Coal Project, in the Elk Valley’s Crowsnest coalfield. The mine will produce between 2.3 and 4 million tonnes of steelmaking coal per year for up to 25 years. The Michel project is located in the Elk Valley Coal Fields between two existing mines and adjacent to Corbin Road. The proposed mine includes three open pits at Loop Ridge, Michel Head and Tent Mountain, totaling a disturbance of approximately 1900 hectares.

Patty Vadnais, Communications Lead with North Coal, said that water quality is a top issue for the company, which is using a layered waste rock disposal system that limits oxygen flow through waste rock piles, which reduces the chemical reactions that lead to excessive selenium and nitrate levels that could harm ecology in the Elk River Valley.

“We’ve been working on our environmental baseline studies since 2013,” she said. “We’ve done the environmental work up-front and designed a mine plan with that in mind, rather than designing a mine plan, and then making the environmental pieces fit to that. It’s been a high priority at North Coal that water and environmental considerations are put up front, and we are referencing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan in development plans.”

Minimizing the operation’s exposure to water is axial to North Coal’s environmental plan, according to Vadnais.

“A smaller footprint means that we are not touching as much water,” she explained. “We are minimizing selenium oxidation. In pit we are doing saturated storage, so part of the selenium problem is that air that can mix with things, and it [selenium] becomes mobile and moves down the rivers. A saturated infill removes that air and keeps the selenium where it is.”

As per the North Coal website, there are plans in place to minimize the environmental impact of the mine, including a pit design focused on “controlling in-pit water and discharge points from the pit,” as well as returning waste rock to the pit to reduce selenium oxidation and metal leaching using saturated zones. North Coal is also using a bottom-up development of waste rock storage with low-oxygen conditions to reduce selenium production, metal leaching, and acid rock drainage. They are also planning to “keep clean water away from mine workings and returning it to streams,” among other safeguards.

The Free Press asked North Coal about additional trains, and train noise, in Fernie when the new mine comes on-line.

Jason Swanson, Environmental Assessment Coordinator with North Coal said the current production schedule, and annual production rates at around 2 million tonnes, equates to a train and a half, to two trains a week.

“There will be additional trains in the system, about two trains a week,”he said.

“If you want to prevent the conductors from blowing horns, then you have to build a fence, the entire length of the town with gates and lights. That would have to be a conversation between the town and CP.”

Another topic covered during the presentation was housing for mine workers, who will total in the hundreds, (350-400 during mine construction. 250-300 during production).

“It’s not North Coal’s goal to provide subsidized housing, or to build single detached dwellings,” Vadnais explained. “The best solutions are solutions that come from the market that are done by developers and match with market needs, but we are looking for mitigation options that assist with transition, where somebody comes to town, and they need a place to stay for three months or six months while they find a permanent home. We need to deal with that large influx of people during construction.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whitehorse native Elias joins Michigan-Dearborn Wolverines

Johnny Elias played for the Fernie Ghostriders this past season

EDITORIAL: Editor bids farewell

Editor Paige Mueller will be leaving The Free Press team at the end of July

Aislinn Dressler competes in 2020 Youth Innovation Showcase

Dressler was a finalist at the showcase, exhibiting her energy efficient fridge design

Stories decorate city pathways for new reading initiative

The Fernie Women’s Resource Centre began the initiative in support of the local early years community

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

Some are concerned about side effects, while others don’t think the virus is a big deal

Don’t leave your hand sanitizer in the sun and other tips to stay COVID safe this summer

Being mindful of staying outside and keeping hand sanitizer, sunscreen out of the sun recommended

What exactly is ‘old growth’ B.C. forest, and how much is protected?

Forests minister Doug Donaldson doesn’t support ‘moratorium’

Canadians can travel to Hawaii in September; no quarantine with negative COVID test

Travellers will be required to pay for their own tests prior to arriving

Anonymous letters tell Vancouver Island family their kids are too loud

Letter said the noise of kids playing in Parksville backyard is ‘unbearable’

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Most Read