For the second time in two years, the minister of Environment and Climate Change has determined that the Vista Coal Underground Mine Project and Vista Mine Phase II Expansion Project warrant designation under the Impact Assessment Act, and issued an order Sept. 29.
Under the Impact Assessment Act, the federal government conducts an impact assessment for designated projects. Prior to that assessment, designated projects must be considered and reviewed by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to decide whether an impact assessment is actually required. This process came to a halt after its first designation was quashed in federal court earlier this summer.
The proposed projects located just outside of Hinton by Coalspur Mines (Bighorn Mining), were first designated on July 30, 2020. Phase I was not initially designated for a federal assessment, but when Coalspur applied for a phase II expansion the entire project was designated. That designation was set aside on July 19, 2021 when the Federal Court granted an Application for Judicial Review filed by Ermineskin Cree Nation.
The court ruled that there was a lack of consultation with Ermineskin Cree Nation who would benefit from an agreement with Coalspur if the mine continued operations.
Following the federal court decisions, in August 2021, the Impact Assessment Agency Of Canada commenced the process for reconsideration and sought additional input from federal authorities and 44 Indigenous groups, including Ermineskin Cree Nation.
Following the reconsideration, Minister Jonathan Wilkinson of Environment and Climate Change Canada determined that the physical activities warrant designation.
Similar to the first decision to designate in 2020, Wilkinson reasoned that when considered together, the area of mining operations for the physical activities would be just below the 50 per cent threshold to be considered for designation, but over 50 kilo tons per day of raw coal, well above the total coal production capacity threshold of 5,000 tonnes per day.
“The physical activities may cause direct and cumulative effects to areas of federal jurisdiction and direct or incidental effects,” Wilkinson’s response read.
The physical activities could result in adverse effects to fish and fish habitat, the deposit of deleterious substances into fish habitat, and effects to the environment that impact Indigenous peoples of Canada, their health, social well-being, food security, and mental well-being.
Another reason for the designation were the concerns expressed by the requesters, Indigenous groups, federal authorities, and members of the public.
Coalspur Mines is proposing to expand the existing Phase I of their surface coal mine. The operation would extract and export thermal coal to international markets.
The proposal includes two expansions: an underground coal mine and a westward expansion of the Phase I mine pits. The expansions would use existing Phase I mine infrastructure, such as coal processing facilities, raw and clean coal conveyors, primary access corridor, and a coal load-out facility.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice