The city is taking its concerns surrounding the proposed expansion of Quinsam Coal Mine to the B.C. government.
Council directed city staff to prepare a letter to the Ministry of Energy and Mines which will focus on water quality impacts from the mine, as well as the mine’s social and economic benefits to the community.
“I think it’s a really important issue for the City of Campbell River,” said Claire Moglove at last week’s council meeting. “I know Quinsam Coal has made some technical changes so it’s incumbent upon us to send this letter.”
Those changes revolve around the mine’s storage plans for coarse coal rejects, or waste materials.
In the mine’s original expansion application it proposed storing the potentially acid generating rejects in two open, flooded pits. Quinsam Coal has since said it will instead develop underground storage sites to reduce some of the technical challenges.
Moglove said she feels the company has put a lot of work into trying to minimize the impacts of an expansion that would have miners going into an area called 7-South, which would yield coal with a higher sulfur content.
“It appears to me that Quinsam Coal has done everything in its power to address concerns from the public,” Moglove said.
Amber Zirnhelt, the city’s environmental manager, agreed that the mine has put in a lot of effort, and said any technical questions that still remain “will be reviewed by the Ministry of Energy and Mines staff.”
Water quality in Long Lake has been one of the biggest environmental concerns since Hillsborough Resources, the parent company of Quinsam Coal, applied for expansion nearly two years ago.
Dr. William Cullen and the Canadian Water Network’s 2008/2009 study found arsenic levels in Long Lake sediment samples to be 30 times higher than provincial guidelines.
“The research identifies a link between sulfur and arsenic, and the proposed 7-South mine amendment involves major construction in an area that is probably one of the sources of the high concentrations of arsenic and sulfate found in Long Lake,” said Terri Martin, biologist and the city’s environmental co-ordinator.
Coun. Ryan Mennie, who opposed sending a letter to the province, questioned the need for the city to wade into an area it has no expertise in. Mennie said the open house the company held in Campbell River as well as previous presentations to council from Hillsborough, the Ministry of Energy and Mines and Dr. Cullen, is enough.
“There’s technical issues we don’t understand so stepping into a process and addressing issues that are already being looked at by a technical committee…how far is too far? When do we get to the point of affecting jobs?” Mennie said.
If the expansion is not approved, Hillsborough has said it likely has about 28 months of mining left but an expansion could increase its life span by another four or five years. The mine currently employs 140 workers.