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Enviro group ‘out of the loop’ on Campbell River coal mine expansion

Underground miners work to remove coal deposits from the Quinsam operation located west of the city.  - Photo courtesy Hillsborough Resources
Underground miners work to remove coal deposits from the Quinsam operation located west of the city.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Hillsborough Resources

Quinsam Coal is working to minimize effluent seepages into surrounding waterways and is keeping an open ear to concerns from the Campbell River Environmental Committee.

“Comments from the environmental committee are of interest to us,” said Gary Gould, vice-president of Hillsborough Resources which owns the coal mine located 20 kilometres west of Campbell River.

Last week, the province granted Quinsam a permit amendment, allowing the company to begin work on expanding operations into a new area known as “7 South.”

The expansion may still face a federal environmental assessment, pending a review from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In response to the permit amendment, the local environmental committee sent a Jan. 27 letter to Rich Coleman, Minister of Energy and Mines.

In the letter, director Peter Winter outlined the committee’s concerns. In particular, Coleman’s statement on Jan. 25, that, “Quinsam Mine is committed to maintaining the highest standards of safety and environment compliance.”

Winter responded, “How can you, the minister, make this statement when Quinsam Coal was found to be out of compliance for unauthorized points of effluent discharge and exceedances in discharge limits…in (its) 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 annual water quality monitoring reports?”

Specifically, the committee pointed to the 2009-’10 Compliance Review Record which outlines concerns about seepage water discharging into Long Lake.

The provincial review also indicates the mine can do a better job of monitoring discharges and the surrounding environment.

“…Quinsam Coal has consistently failed to meet the ministry’s waste permit standards…” wrote Winter. “Elevated levels of sulphates in the Quinsam River watershed and alarmingly elevated levels of arsenic in lake sediments continue to be a serious problem.”

In response, Gould said the company doesn’t agree with all the concerns outlined by the committee, but has taken steps to mitigate seepage from a “coal wash ditch” which had been a problem.

According to Gould, the seepage is now collected in a sump, then pumped into the tailings storage facility which is part of the north mine water handling system.

“We have taken corrective action,” he stated.

 

Expansion plan

 

As for the 7 South expansion, it is expected to produce 1.7 million tonnes of coal over a four- to five-year period.

Gould said local contractors will be hired to clear trees and to create a small open pit to provide underground access to the coal beds.

He added the company has already made a huge investment in terms of exploration, planning and permitting, and development of the new area will cost an additional $1.5-$2 million.

“There are spinoffs for local workers. There’s the day-to-day operation of the mine, maintenance services – we use local contractors wherever we can,” said Gould.

Over the entire footprint of the mine area, Quinsam estimates there are 40 million tonnes of coal reserves. Gould said the company will be working on more permit amendments in order to access those reserves.

“One of the key objectives is to get into the permitted reserves to extend the life of the mine,” he said.

In the meantime, clearing trees for the 7 South project is expected to begin in about one week.

However, the environmental committee believes it has been cut out of the information loop by the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of the Environment.

In his letter, Winter said the committee was promised it would receive copies of technical review comments regarding the mine’s application, but this is not happening.

“Since we have not been provided with the conditions of the 7 South mine amended permit, which you (Minister Coleman) have approved, we have no idea whether any of our concerns have been addressed.”

For more information on Quinsam Coal, visit hillsboroughresources.com

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