The Quinsam coal mine will be allowed to extend its mining operations, after being awarded an amendment permit this week.
However, the project could still face a review from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, pending completion of a review by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The announcement of the permit came Wednesday afternoon, just hours after Campbell River city council received an informational update regarding the mine’s application.
In August, city council expressed concern about water quality in nearby lakes and streams, environmental management, and remediation plans in the event of the mine’s closure.
The mine area will expand with the extension. Workers will dig into an area known as “7-South” which is expected to yield a higher sulfur-content coal.
According to a report written for city council by biologist Terri Martin, the city’s environment co-ordinator, the draft report received earlier this month from the Vancouver Island Mine Development Committee, does address some of the concerns.
“The city expressed a concern about water quality that span many aspects of proposed min development,” Martin wrote. “It appears that the draft report addresses the…process to minimize harmful effects…through a variety of measures from changes in the mine plan.”
Martin said that since many of the areas involved are beyond the city’s area of technical expertise, “we are relying on the professional expertise of senior government agencies to ensure that these matters are thoroughly addressed.”
The potential for seep contamination into Long Lake remains a concern, based on the information presented in the draft report. The Ministry of the Environment has directed Quinsam Coal to implement a large-scale mitigation program for the Lake, which is now under way. The program, however, is not part of the 7-South expansion.
“It is our understanding that the mitigation falls outside of the permit amendment,” Martin said.
As for environmental management and remediation once the mine is closed, parent company Hillborough Resources has provided a confidential and detailed cost estimate to the Ministry of Energy and Mines along with updated closure plan for the site.
The committee’s draft report recommended increasing the security held for the site to reflect the total liability at the mine site.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is also evaluating Quinsam’s application to determine if a Fisheries Act authorization is required.
“If an authorization is required it will in turn trigger a review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency,” Martin said.
Wednesday’s announcement of the Mine Act permit does not eliminate the potential for an environmental assessment.
Local environmental groups opposing the mine extension were left without comment after the short announcement from the provincial government.
“We don’t know the details, and the devil is in the details,” said Stan Goodrich of Greenways Land Trust. “We are obviously very interested, and we’ll be taking some time to review it. We will have a comment but we like to speak with one voice.”
In a press release, David Turnbull,CEO of Hillborough Resources, which operates the mine said the company was very pleased to receive the permit.
“We appreciate the province’s diligence in ensuring that Quinsam Mine remains an innovative and high-quality operation,” Turnbull said.
“We’ve worked closely with them so that we can continue to meet or exceed all regulatory requirements and protect key local environmental values. We also have worked very closely with local First Nations, as well as with the local community and other key stakeholders.”
Located 20 kilometres west of Campbell River Quinsam Mine, the only underground coal mine in B.C., produces approximately 500,000 tonnes of thermal coal a year. The mine started production in 1986. It has in excess of 40 million tonnes of coal resources. Quinsam Mine provides wages and benefits for about 140 employees totaling more than $14 million per year.
Quinsam Mine is committed to maintaining the highest standards of safety and environmental compliance, said a press release from the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
“Among its other commitments to sustainability, it is dedicated to developing and implementing techniques to recycle old waste materials and convert them to usable products. Furthermore, it was the first mine to be permitted to dispose of coarse rock refuse underground in old mine workings.”
The province expects to see eight new mines and another nine mining expansions operational in British Columbia by 2015. This is the second mine expansion announced and the first on Vancouver Island.