P.C. council stands by Grassy Mountain project

·3 min read

Back on June 28, Pincher Creek town council received a letter from High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass.

High River has been a vocal critic of proposed coal-mining projects in the Rocky Mountains, citing the risk water pollution poses to it and other communities downstream of where the mines would operate.

After meeting with the provincial government’s coal policy committee, High River issued a letter to Alberta municipalities requesting support for replacing the existing 1976 coal policy with a new coal restriction policy. The new policy would ban all coal development and exploration on the Eastern Slopes.

Upon receiving the letter, town council simply voted to accept it as information, meaning no additional action was required. The topic was brought back during the July 26 meeting by Coun. Brian McGillivray, who requested council direct administration to send a letter to Mayor Snodgrass in support of the coal restriction policy.

Coun. McGillivray acknowledged supporting a ban on all coal mining in the Rockies was a 180-degree turn from council’s position less than a year ago, particularly in regards to the Grassy Mountain mine project. Coun. McGillivray himself presented as a delegation during the public hearing on behalf of the town to express support for the project.

“There appeared to be no downsides at [that] point, and it would be a win-win project,” he said, adding that the project’s economic benefits and increased demand for housing in Pincher Creek were major reasons he initially supported the mine.

Learning more about potentially long-lasting environmental effects and the difficulty of managing selenium pollution, Coun. McGillivray continued, brought about his change of opinion.

“I think the right thing to do is to support [the coal restriction policy] because I believe mining will have a negative environmental impact — if not on us directly, it will impact us indirectly, and if not today, it could very well happen in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

“We are mandated to foster the well-being of the environment and we are to develop and maintain a safe, viable community. And so now, I guess I ask us as a council: what do we want to do?”

Other council members were not as willing to withdraw their support for Grassy Mountain. Coun. Lorne Jackson said responsible coal development had its supporters, particularly the neighbouring Piikani Nation, which is filing for permission to appeal the joint review panel’s rejection of the Grassy Mountain project.

“They state that they are still in favour of the project. They see it as an economic opportunity for their people,” Coun. Jackson said.

Coun. Mark Barber agreed, adding that it was important to support the Nation’s autonomy.

“That is their ancestral lands, and they are taking the government response to task,” he said. “I’m not comfortable pretending I know what’s best for Piikani Nation.”

While recognizing there were “lots of people talking on both sides of the fence about whether you can or can’t control things,” Mayor Don Anderberg said leaving the abandoned Grassy Mountain mine unreclaimed to appease environmental concerns wasn’t the right thing to do.

“Personally, I’d like to see that project go forward with the reclamation plan that’s in place,” he said.

The mayor also said responsible resource development should not be considered unrealistic due to the level of expertise and technological advancement that would ensure Grassy Mountain kept within provincial regulations.

“Somewhere you have to think that people are doing their jobs and making sure those issues that are coming forward are actually not impactful,” Mayor Anderberg said.

Council ultimately voted against sending a letter to High River in support of the restrictive coal policy.

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

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