Candidates weigh in on Raven coal mine proposal

Parksville Qualicum Beach provincial election hopefuls talk about submission expected by end of month

NDP candidate Barry Avis says the provincial government is giving “non-answers” about the proposed Raven coal mine and he says that is not giving the people of Parksville Qualicum Beach confidence in the approval process.

“There is growing concern that the Liberal government wants to force through the proposed Raven coal mine,” Avis said following an exchange in the provincial Legislature Wednesday afternoon. “The Liberal government did not give any confidence to the people of our region with their non-answers about the coal mine. This is very disappointing given how much is at stake – including water quality, road safety, and hundreds of long-term, sustainable jobs in the shellfish industry.”

Scott Fraser, NDP MLA for Alberni-Pacific Rim, tabled a petition in the legislature on Wednesday signed by more than 5,000 people.

“The controversial Raven underground coal mine project highlights serious holes in this government’s gutted environmental assessment process,” Fraser said in the Legislature. Fraser pointed to resolutions expressing concern about the assessment from local governments in the region, including the town of Qualicum Beach.

Parksville-Qualicum Liberal candidate Michelle Stilwell said Thursday she “wouldn’t be in favour of any project if it wasn’t going to improve the quality of life for our constituents.”

Stilwell wouldn’t directly respond to the NDP’s comments about the process but she did say it’s important to wait until environmental reports are in.

“When that’s complete we will have to make the decisions based on the facts that provides us,” she said.

The B.C. Conservative Party candidate for this constituency, David Coupland, said he is “not against projects like this in terms of developing our resources, but we cannot take any risk in damaging the watershed or the aquaculture.”

“Each project has to be judged on its merits separately,” said Coupland. “The biggest concern is the environment. But we’ve had lots of coal mines in the past on the Island — with far less environmental scrutiny — and the watersheds have recovered or are fine.”

The petition presented in the legislature last week by Fraser was organized by the Comox Valley Water Watch Coalition and Coalwatch, another Comox-based organization.

“The 6,000-acre underground mine proposed near Fanny Bay, with a life span of 16 years, along with its associated open pit Bear Mine, has been the subject of controversy and opposition in the Comox Valley  for almost three years,” a news release from the Water Watch group said last week. “Four local governments have passed resolutions calling for a joint panel review and independent aquifer mapping before the mine application proceeds.”

“The petition said that, in light of the threat the mine posed to streams and Baynes Sound, home of a renowned and prosperous shellfish industry which employs 600 people, as well as air pollution and traffic problems, the mine had no public consent and should be stopped.”

The proposed mine would be on land five kilometres west of the Buckley Bay ferry terminal. John Tapics, the president and CEO of Compliance Coal Corporation, issued this statement Thursday in response to a request for comment from The NEWS:

“Taking a position while the proposed project is still in the pre-application stage of the EA process is premature,” Tapics wrote. “Assumptions regarding potential effects of the project are being made before scientific data and environmental studies have been finalized and released.”

A Compliance spokesperson told The NEWS on Feb. 18 the company expects to submit its application in the first quarter of 2013. In his statement Thursday, Tapics said the submission will be made in “the near future.”