Vancouver Island was built on coal - but is there a future for it?




t was a coal mining area for more than 60 years, and in the middle of this time a shellfish industry sprouted and eventually became the engine that drives the economy of bays called Union, Fanny, Deep and Buckley.

The coal trains and ships stopped moving in the mid part of the last century, but now the shellfish industry employs more than 600 people in the region. Baynes Sound produces more oysters than anywhere else in Canada, not to mention the scallops, mussels and clams.

So, ponders the uneducated mind, if coal didn’t kill the industry before – in fact, the shellfish industry grew exponentially during and after the presence of a coal mine and coal wharf right in its front yard – why so much opposition from shellfish growers this time around in response to the Raven coal mine project?

After Matthew Wright, the communications manager for the B.C. Shellfish Growers’ Association, reminded us this was 2012 and not 1912 – ouch – he explained why his group is so adamantly opposed to the Raven project.

It’s all about marketing and standards, he says. What may have been sold on the market 40 years ago absolutely cannot be sold today. There are food safety laws now, you see. That black-ish clam you dig up in Union Bay today might be edible, but you aren’t allowed to sell it these days, explained Wright.

But the coal from Raven would not be shipped via Baynes Sound and although it would be mined about 5 km away afrom Buckley Bay, it would always be moving the opposite direction toward Port Alberni.

Wright pointed out the disturbance of the earth and the eventual leaching (mostly animal fecal matter) into Baynes from the construction of the Inland Highway frequently shut down his industry for days at a time.

As strong as its opposition clearly is, we find it curious the Growers’ association, according to Wright, was willing to play ball with Raven if the coal company would put up a bond to safeguard the finances of the families that would be affected by any shellfish closures caused by the mine.

The story of coal mining on Vancouver Island, roughly 150 years old, continues. Stay tuned.

— Editorial by John Harding




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