Feedback sought on Central South assessment

After commencing a federal environmental assessment in late March, public feedback is being sought on a proposed 98-million tonne coal mine slated to be built 50 kilometres west of Chetwynd.

First Coal Corporation's Central South mine could produce 1.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year over a mine life of 12 to 13 years. The mine features narrow, steeply dipping coal seams that require an custom mining approach – one the company says will result in a much smaller environmental footprint than open pit mining would.

The hybrid system would incorporate conventional open trenches and remote underground pillar mining, and would involve continuous reclamation and closure by progressively backfilling mined out trenches with waste rock from active trenches.

Those trenches are proposed to be 150 metres wide by 600 metres long, and up to 75 metres in depth. At any one time, six trenches would be in production.

The mine also calls for a 10-kilometre access road to be built between the mine property and the Falling Creek Forestry Service Road, with a six-metre wide road surface built to handle 50-tonne coal trucks. The mine would also require a 200-man camp to be set up at kilometre 20 of the Boulder Road. Road upgrades would also need to be carried out on sections of the Boulder Road.

A plant on site would have a raw coal feed capacity of 325 tonnes per hour. All water from the plant would be recycled, and fresh water from nearby groundwater wells would uptake 9.3 litres per second. Creeks would be diverted to avoid water quality effects from land disturbance. A total of 5 sediment control ponds have been proposed to remove sediments from the waste rock stockpiles, coal preparation plant, reject stockpile and the rail loadout site runoff.

First Coal also plans to construct a 25-kilovolt overhead line between the coal plant and a BC Hydro service point on Highway 97 near Falling Creek. To transported the coal to Ridley Terminals, the project would involve building a 2,500-metre oval rail loadout loop with 500 metre and 300 metre spur connections being built next to the Canadian National rail line situated just south of Highway 97.

The project will also require up to seven million kilograms of explosives annually.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) began their comprehensive study on March 28. Comments on the project, the proposed boundaries of the environmental assessment, or the potential effects of the project, are being sought between April 11 and May 11, and may be e-mailed to .

In adition to the CEAA, a half dozen other federal agencies are involved in the environmental assessment. Those groups include Natural Resources Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, Environment Canada, Health Canada, and the Canadian Transportation Agency. The project is also subject to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act, which First Coal hasn't yet submitted an application for.

This is the first of three public participation opportunities for the project, and $50,000 is available to assist groups or individuals to follow and take a part in the public consultation.

In the next stage, the federal government will provide direction to First Coal on developing guidelines for its environmenmtal impact statement. The last stage will see the federal government preparing a report over whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental affects.