Crowsnest Pass council doubles down on mine support

·3 min read

When push comes to shove, sometimes the only option is digging in your heels and standing your ground.

Such is the case for Crowsnest Pass council members who reiterated their support for mining development in the municipality, during the Jan. 12 and 19 regular council meetings.

Public opposition has ignited over the Alberta government rescinding its 1976 coal policy, which restricted mine development in the eastern Rocky Mountains.

The government announced the policy change back in May 2020, but word of a legal challenge brought attention back to the issue.

Several ranchers, First Nations and outdoor recreation groups are taking the government to court, claiming the policy was rescinded without proper consultation with stakeholders. The government argues it had every right to rescind the coal policy because, unlike legislation, policy change does not require consultation.

For its part, Crowsnest Pass council wanted to make clear that the debate over the policy has no effect on the proposed Grassy Mountain and Tent Mountain mining projects in the municipality, both of which began — and were permitted — under the old policy.

Despite being a separate issue, Coun. Lisa Sygutek said public scapegoating of the mining industry needed to be combated with accurate information.

“The people who support it don’t seem to say very much,” she said.

A Global National interview with Mayor Blair Painter was scheduled for Jan. 20, on top of several the mayor had already participated in this year.

“I’m hoping to correct a lot of misinformation out there, the biggest one I see [being] that Riversdale wants to destroy a pristine area within our community,” Mayor Painter said.

About 25 per cent of the proposed Grassy Mountain project land includes a previously mined area that was abandoned in the 1960s. The current proposal from Benga Mining includes active reclamation work occurring alongside coal extraction over the course of the mine’s 25-year lifespan.

Concerns mining opponents voiced in regards to environmental damage, the mayor continued, are being formed without a clear understanding of the industry’s modern development.

“What these folks don’t realize is they’re kind of comparing Teck’s mining on the B.C. side — which is 1940s, 1950s technology — to the new, stringent regulations that are out there today and the new types of technology that are also available to use,” he said.

Rejecting the Grassy Mountain mine because there was no guarantee selenium water pollution would not occur, added Coun. Ward, was misguided.

“Nothing in this life is guaranteed,” he said.

He pointed to a feedlot along Highway 22 near a creek as likewise posing an environmental hazard that was tolerated.

“I look at 200 cows, to which I’ve never really paid attention to before, but just a couple hundred feet down from there is a creek,” said Coun. Ward. “And I wondered to myself, How do they guarantee that none of that literal crap that the cows put out doesn’t leak into that creek?”

Standards around water protection, he added, don’t seem to apply equally to agriculture.

“What about all the fertilizer and the petrochemicals that they’re dealing with — how can they tell me that that’s not going into my aquifer? I find the hypocrisy of these people to no bounds,” Coun Sygutek said.

Challenging agricultural and environmental groups, she added, often resulted in personal attacks and insults rather than debate of facts.

“Farming and ranching is big business in southern Alberta. Nobody wants to open that door — period,” Mayor Painter said.

Topics the mayor planned to discuss during the next meeting of the Oldman Watershed Council included off-highway vehicle use on public land in the Castle region, chemical use in food production, along with the effect on waterways by backcountry grazing leases and feed lots.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze