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Wildsight says proposed Elk Valley coal mine could lead to worsening pollution

Wildsight officials said a proposed coal mine in the Elk Valley will further exacerbate local pollution if it becomes a reality.

“Recent progress on a proposed new coal mine in British Columbia’s Elk Valley highlights government inaction on the region’s growing water pollution crisis,” said Wildsight officials. “NWP Coal Canada’s proposed Crown Mountain coal mine passed another stage of review with the provincial and federal governments last month and has now entered the public feedback period.”

Wildsight said, if approved, the mine’s waste rock would leach pollutants into the watershed that is already recording levels higher than what is considered safe for wildlife and humans.

“We cannot risk worsening what is already a dire environmental crisis with another Elk Valley coal mine,” said Simon Wiebe, Mining Policy and Impacts Researcher at Wildsight, a Kootenay-based environmental organization.

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“The vast piles of waste rock produced through the existing Teck-owned coal mines in the Elk Valley have dramatically increased the amount of selenium, a naturally occurring mineral, leaching into the Fording and Elk rivers,” said Wildsight. “Those waters flow through communities such as Fernie, into Lake Koocanusa on the Canadian-US border, and into Montana and Idaho.”

This comes after B.C. joined Canada, the US, Montana, Idaho and First Nations in agreeing to an International Joint Commission investigation into water pollution in the Elk Valley.

“B.C. is actively fanning the flames of the selenium crisis by allowing new coal mines to progress in the Elk Valley. Meanwhile, Canada lags behind on its self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement in principle,” said Wiebe.

“Our governments either aren’t taking this water pollution crisis seriously or are incapable of demonstrating the leadership that’s required to protect human lives and aquatic health.”

Wildsight officials said the proposed Crown Mountain coal mine would span over 1,200 hectares between Sparwood and Elkford.

“NWP Coal Canada says it can almost entirely prevent selenium from leaching into the environment by keeping its waste rock piles dry under packed layers of waste coal, tailings, and plant material, but this technique hasn’t been used in a coal mining context before and was not designed to manage selenium leaching,” said Wildsight.

“Given the company plans to deposit its waste rock on top of what is currently West Alexander Creek, it is extremely unlikely it will be able to maintain dry conditions,” said Wiebe. “NWP’s Coal’s proposed selenium mitigation measures rely on experimental and unproven technology, and we have no reason to believe they will work. That’s a risk the Elk Valley can’t afford to take right now.”

Wildsight officials said Teck was fined over $16 million for polluting waterways, despite having spent $1.4 billion on research, monitoring, water treatment and mitigation measures over 10 years.

“Unfortunately the reality is that although the coal industry is scrambling to find effective water treatment solutions, they’re just not there yet,” said Wiebe.

A public comment period is open until Feb 28.

More: Project Comment page (B.C. government)

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