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Eastern Slopes mining too risky, delegation tells county council

West Country Sustainability Coalition invited to present to Mountain View County council

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - Coal mining in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains west of Sundre and Cremona would come with unacceptable environmental and financial risks, Mountain View County council was told June 9.

Jim Stelfox, a retired fisheries biologist and member of the West Country Sustainability Coalition (WCSC), appeared before council as a delegation.

He made a PowerPoint presentation entitled Open-pit coal mines in the Eastern Slopes: Siltation, Selenium and Salmonids.

Siltation associated with mining can negatively impact salmonids (fish such as salmon and trout) by suffocating their eggs and reducing their food supply, he said.

A breach of tailing ponds at mining sites could cause widespread damage to area streams, rivers and wildlife, he said.

High concentrations of selenium associated with coal mining could cause fish deformities and other environmental impacts, he said.

Alberta Environment assurances about monitoring and enforcement cannot be relied upon to protect the environment from coal mining, he said.  

“Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA and minister of Environment and Parks) has stated that Alberta has world-class environmental regulations. However, this is of little benefit if the regulations are not enforced,” he said.

“Who do you think will end up paying to operate the water treatment plants for decades after the coal mines have closed and the companies have left our province with their profits? It is a real risk that we are running.

“Simply put, the risks greatly outweigh the gains from open-pit coal mining in the Eastern Slopes when you consider the cost of reclaiming the coal mines, of treating the water for decades, relative to the pittances that we are going to be getting for the coal mining companies coming here.” 

Coal mining companies should be required to post bonds that could cover 100 per cent of future cleanup and water treatment costs, something they currently do not have to do in Alberta, he said.

Coun. Peggy Johnson asked Stelfox: “If we want to make a difference, either individually or as a group, what actions do we need to take?”

He said people can provide input to the provincial coal consultation committee and write letters to government members expressing concern.

“If people are concerned about it they need to make their voices heard to the political masters in this province. They are the ones who have basically being driving this for open-pit mining in the Eastern Slopes,” he said.

Council accepted Stelfox’s presentation for information.

MLA Nixon has told The Albertan that no coal mining applications have been made for anywhere west of Sundre or Cremona, and that any future coal mining in the region would have to adhere to strict environmental regulations and approvals.

Mountain View County invited the WCSC to appear as a delegation in response to a resident request and the coalition assigned Stelfox as its speaker, said Jeff Holmes, the county's chief administrative officer.

Dan Singleton

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