In roughly four months’ time, an extension of Teck Coal’s Elkview Operations will bring mining closer to Sparwood than ever before.
The Baldy Ridge Extension (BRE) project will extend the overall life of the mine until 2045 and increase the disturbance area of the operation by 862 hectares.
On Tuesday, May 14, Teck provided its annual update on the BRE project, which is slated to start in October.
About 50 people gathered at the Sparwood Leisure Centre for the meeting, which was opened by Elkview Operations General Manager Dan Sander.
He recognized fugitive dust as the major issue for the community and said Teck is trialling innovative solutions to try to resolve this and other impacts.
Over the course of the meeting, Teck staff highlighted these solutions as they presented on a range of topics, including the work of the Socio-Community Economics Effects Advisory Committee (SCEEAC), which is overseeing the BRE project.
The SCEEAC’s focus this year is reviewing and proposing adjustments to Teck management’s plans for blasting and vibration, visual quality and noise, as well as a livability study commissioned by the District of Sparwood.
The District has released a preliminary report, which is available at Sparwood.ca, with the final study to be approved by council this summer.
Teck’s Noise Control Plan aims to ensure that noise levels do not exceed daytime and nighttime guidelines to limit any potential noise nuisance to the local community and wildlife.
In 2018, an independent review found Teck was complying with all conditions and actions outlined in the plan. A second review is currently underway to assess if there are any additional concerns for exceeding noise limits.
Teck also has a management plan for blasting and vibration. Elkview Engineering Superintendent Dan Myck explained there were 285 blasts at the mine in 2018, 72 (27 per cent) of which triggered monitoring. He said all blasts were under the permitted level.
There was one complaint about air overpressure from a Teck employee last year, however, no event was detected when checked by Teck.
Myck said Teck is switching to electronic blasting, which gives the company more control over impacts.
In 2018, Teck also monitored three ambient air quality stations in conjunction with meteorological stations adjacent to the mine site. These are used to assess air quality related to fugitive dust emissions.
According to the Socio-economic Effects Management Plan Annual Report published by Teck, BC Ambient Air Quality Objectives (BC AAQO) were exceeded for PM2.5 (Fine Particulate Matter) at all monitoring stations, largely influenced by forest fires.
There were 43 PM10 daily average results above BC AAQO across the three monitoring stations, 40 of which occurred in August and September, a time heavily impacted by forest fires in the region, said Teck.
Source emissions sampling is also conducted at the dryer stacks and breaker stack at Elkview Operations. Last year, Teck received a $37,500 fine after the breaker stack exceeded Total Particulate Matter permit limits in the second quarter.
According to Teck’s report, the stack was resampled in the third and fourth quarter, and found to be below permit limits.
Environmental Engineer-In-Training, Jessica Tremblay said the company is evolving its monitoring network and evaluating other constituents of concern, such as silica, to compare with other jurisdictions worldwide.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing the best we can do,” she said.
Teck is also trialling two micro pulse lidars. These will measure and monitor dust sources and migration this summer, complementing existing air monitoring.
Reclamation and closure work continues at problematic spoils, which have been identified as a source of dust.
In 2018, Elkview Operations received 101 complaints regarding air quality and dust. Major events included “black rain” in May 16 and July 26, and “black snow” on September 30.
In response to public concern, Teck hosted a focus group earlier this year to initiate discussions and identify ways to ease impacts on the community.
Mitigation measures identified by community members at the initial meeting included exterior housing cleaning, supporting the District of Sparwood in cleaning public areas such as playgrounds and continuing the development and enforcement of the Clean Vehicle Strategy.
Manager of Social Responsibility Nic Milligan said Teck hopes to unveil mitigation measures in the next few weeks.
Long-time Sparwood resident Dennis Feltham wants to see the mining company crack down on dirty vehicles.
“I can see a lot of improvements from the mine itself,” he said. “But I don’t see a lot of improvement in the dirty vehicle situation. All these contractor trucks coming into town, not washed… that seems to be a new thing that we didn’t see in the past.
“I worked for Teck, I had a truck for six years and I always made sure when I came home that it was clean. It takes 10 minutes of your day and I can’t see why everybody can’t do it.”
Feltham has lived in Sparwood for 37 years and for the first time, noticed black snow in his garden this past winter. He admitted he found it a “little bit depressing” and drove to Fernie to get out of town.
“I was surprised how white the snow is and I can see why everybody wants to live in Fernie and not Sparwood,” he said. “I expect the commitment from Teck to clean up this dirty vehicle situation, that’s the most important thing to me right now.
“From what we’ve seen tonight it looks like the company is changing a lot of ways of mining and I hope they’re serious and it works, for the people of Sparwood.”