District of Sparwood Mayor David Wilks said mining was vital for the future of the valley communities. (File photo)

District of Sparwood Mayor David Wilks said mining was vital for the future of the valley communities. (File photo)

Two environmental assessments for Castle Project sends bad mixed messages: Sparwood mayor Wilks

Mayor Wilks said that only one assessment should be carried out on the Castle Project

The environmental assessment of Teck’s Castle Project should be carried out by either the provincial or the federal government and not both, according to District of Sparwood mayor, David Wilks.

“I’m not a big fan of a company – whether it be Teck or anyone else – having to go through a dual process,” he said, adding that it was important that Teck follow through with either.

Wilks said that dual processes raised the risk of mixed messages.

“What I have seen in the past is that the B.C. (environmental assessment) process will approve a project, and then the federal government will come around and not approve it.

“Unfortunately that sends very bad mixed messages to companies throughout Canada, not just Teck.”

“I have no problem with it going federal, but then drop the provincial one.”

The Castle Project, south of the existing Fording River operations, is a design-stage project intended to secure the future of Teck’s coal mining operations in the Elkford area.

Fording River has been operational for 50 years, and the Castle Project would see Teck maintain production from the mine at 27,500 tonnes of coal per day.

The project has drawn the attention of environmental groups such as Wildsight, which banded together with First Nations, and U.S. groups and governments to lobby Ottawa to step in to conduct its own environmental assessment alongside the provincial assessment.

Wildsight said the federal involvement is a win for the environment based on potential and current water pollution, as the selenium levels in the Elk River are already too high, making further regulations and hurdles that much harder for Teck to clear.

Wilks said that it was important for Teck to follow through with whatever environmental assessments were applied to the project, but added that “there’s no doubt that it could be delayed based on a federal assessment.”

“They do take longer because of the bureaucracy that goes along with it, and there is always a danger that one process approves it and the other does not,” he said.

While Wilks said that the District of Sparwood was neutral on supporting Castle Project based on the outcome of the assessments, he said that the valley simply couldn’t live off the other industries that exist here.

“Coal mining within the Elk Valley is what makes us work. Without the coal mines, Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford are in dire straights.”

“You lose the mines, you lose all the people that live here and work at the mines. They have to move and go somewhere else, because they are not going to stay and be ski bums for the rest of their lives.”

Wilks added that the environmental concerns were nevertheless valid. “I believe that there is a way of coming to an agreement where both sides can win on this.”

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