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Mine fails to quash concerns

There are still a number of concerns surrounding Quinsam Coal Mine’s expansion proposal despite the mine’s efforts to address key environmental issues, the city’s environmental coordinator says.

Quinsam Coal’s plan to extend the life of the coal mine another four or five years has been a controversial topic at City Hall for nearly two years. The expansion would have workers digging into an area called 7-South which would yield a higher sulfur-content coal and potentially acid generating waste.

The Vancouver Island Mine Development Review Committee, organized by the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines was concerned about the mine’s management plans for storage of the waste products and requested Quinsam Coal modify its application. One of the key deficiencies in Quinsam Coal’s 2009 expansion application was its proposal to store the potentially acid-generating coarse coal rejects (PAG-CCR), or waste product, in two open pits through backfilling and flooding to prevent oxidation.

“The review identified one of the open pits as a ‘high risk facility due to the PAG nature of the materials to be stored there and numerous technical challenges with the design of the facility.’ The solution in the current application involves the development of underground storage sites to accommodate the majority of PAG waste and this substantially reduces some of the technical challenges,” said Terri Martin, biologist and the city’s environment co-ordinator, in a report to council.

Although Quinsam Coal has made substantial efforts to address those and other environmental concerns, several areas within the expansion proposal were identified as outstanding concerns at the June 28 Vancouver Island Mine Development Review Committee, said Martin.

“Water chemistry and cumulative effects in the receiving environment remain key issues,” Martin said. “There is considerable discussion and sometimes disagreement amongst the specialists as to the degree of risk associated with the application and representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Mines anticipate further questions around water quality.”

A study by Dr. William Cullen and the Canadian Water Network in 2008/2009 found sediment samples taken from nearby Long Lake, which feeds the Quinsam River, had sulfate levels 30 times higher than provincial guidelines. Cullen also said he found arsenic levels in Long Lake are elevated and different from nearby unaffected lakes. He points to mining operations such as surface runoff, the Long Lake seep, and seepage from waste settling ponds located above Long Lake as the culprit.

The Vancouver Island Mine Development Review Committee agrees with Cullen that arsenic in lake sediments are still a concern but Martin said the committee believes “the degree to which the arsenic in the lake sediment is attributable to the mine is unknown.”

She also noted the mine is working on plans to deal with the Long Lake seep.

Another key consideration revolves around environmental management and remediation following closure of the mine.

If the mine expands, it’s possible the level of financial security taken under the Mines Act may rise. Quinsam Coal’s current financial security is $1.57 million, said Martin but that amount is under review to align with today’s values and to match up with the type of waste water treatment system that may be required. Clean-up at the Mount Washington mine site has exceeded $3 million while the Britannia Mine has cost taxpayers in excess of $60 million. Quinsam Coal’s expansion application has just completed a 60-day review and comment period, triggered by the Island’s Mine Review Committee, that included a public open house. The Ministry of Mines and Energy is still seeking comments concerning the proposed expansion that would allow the mine to stay open.

Quinsam Coal currently employs 140 workers and produces roughly 500,000 tonnes of product per year and does about $10.5 million in business with local suppliers of goods and services. It is one of two underground coal mines in Canada.

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