Teck says the Castle Project is important to maintaining jobs in the Elk Valley.

Teck says the Castle Project is important to maintaining jobs in the Elk Valley.

Teck calls federal intervention in Castle Project ‘unfortunate’

The expansion of the Fording River operations will now be subject to a federal environmental assessment

It’s too early to know whether a recently-announced Federal Environmental Impact Assessment will delay the construction schedule of Teck’s Castle Project in the Elk Valley according to the company.

Norman Fraser, who is the lead of indigenous initiatives with Teck told The Free Press that the decision by Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to wade into the permitting process for the project was “an unfortunate decision,” given it was already subject to provincial processes.

Fraser said that the company would be working with the provincial and federal government agencies involved in the assessment as expected, with its priorities being to ensure there was no duplication of processes.

“We are hopeful that the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada will focus on a timely assessment that is fair and efficient,” said Fraser.

The Castle Project is a proposed project in the design stages that would expand the existing Fording River metallurgical coal operations of the company, near Elkford.

The Castle Project is south of the Fording River operations.

Being in the design stage, the company is still carrying out drilling projects to better understand the geology of the coal deposit, and is engaged with community and Indigenous groups.

Fording River has been operational for almost 50 years, and the Castle Project is envisaged as a necessary expansion for production to continue for decades to come at a capacity of 27,400 tonnes of coal per day.

Fraser told The Free Press that the expansion was important to “maintain the associated jobs and economic activity” of Fording River. There are 1,400 jobs associated with the Fording River operations.

When asked whether the federal intervention would slow down or even stop the project, Fraser said that it was too early to tell.

“We don’t know at this point.

“We’re committed to engaging with the communities and indigenous groups to ensure that the environment is protected and that the Castle Project will contribute to local communities.”

Environmental group Wildsight was claiming the development as a victory over the company earlier in the week, saying in a press release that it and an alliance of environmental groups in Canada and the U.S. had forced the issue with Ottawa.

“Castle would take down an entire mountain, could send dangerous water pollution hundreds of kilometres downstream and cut off travel routes for bears and other wildlife,” said Wildsight spokesperson, Lars Sander-Green, of Wildsight.

“With Teck’s five existing mines in the Elk Valley and decades of mining already permitted, we desperately need a real assessment of the overall impacts from so much mountain-top removal coal mining in one valley.”

Environmental concerns aside, thousands of Elk Valley residents are employed at, and rely on, the operations of Teck.

Mayor of the District of Elkford, Dean McKerracher told The Free Press that as the closest community to Fording River, the district supported the Castle Project, “and recognizes its significance to the long-term sustainability of our community.

“We will continue to be an active and engaged participant during the environmental assessment permit process in addressing the needs of Elkford to ensure our community remains an attractive and viable place for all to live and work,” he said.

“We are grateful for Teck’s long-term support of the communities in the Elk Valley, and look forward to working together into the future toward the continued betterment of our community.”

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC), which represents mining interests did not mince words in its response to the federal intervention, saying it was “extremely disappointed,” before taking a swing at groups in the U.S. that were calling for more oversight.

“It seems clear that this decision was political in nature as there are many projects across the country with equal or more significant impacts that are not subject to the Impact Assessment Act,” said the CEO of MAC, Pierre Gratton.

“This is a case of the government succumbing to pressure from political interest groups while also placating the US government’s EPA and the state of Montana.”

Gratton and the MAC had previously been broadly supportive of the federal government’s impact assessment tools, and the change of heart represents a significant souring on behalf of the association.

READ MORE: Federal government to join assessment of Teck coal mine expansion in B.C.

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