Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Conservation groups shift focus in tackling mine next-door to Jasper National Park

The conservation groups from across Canada that have been challenging the Cheviot open-pit mine have decided to shift their campaign focus from the federal courts to the regulatory and enforcement agencies overseeing the mine, the federal and provincial endangered species provisions and the mine’s parent companies.

Although serious legal issues persist, the groups have decided not to appeal last month’s Federal Court decision regarding their challenge of the federal approval for the first phase of the coal mine; known as the haulroad and the Cheviot Creek developments.

The 7,450 hectare mine is situated less than three kilometers from the national park, on public lands in the core of a high-elevation wildland earlier determined by the federal and provincial governments to be critical wildlife habitat and warranting of protection as a nationally significant natural area.

“Even though the approval was issued despite unresolved concerns of federal government officials, the glaringly obvious environmental harm from Cheviot likely wouldn’t be rectified by pursuing it further through the courts,” explains Dianne Pachal of the Sierra Club of Canada. “Our interest in seeing that the project doesn’t go past the first phase that’s been approved, about one-fifth of the mine, wouldn’t be addressed by the Courts.”

Topping the groups’ list of actions is getting the governments to address the non-existence of the committees promised by the federal and Alberta governments to reduce the damage from the new open-pit mine. The selenium contamination of the McLeod River watershed is another of their priorities, along with preservation of the remaining 386 square kilometers of the candidate Mountain Wildland Park, and the failure of the company and governments to compensate for the loss of critical wildlife habitat as promised in the approvals.

“What they promised wouldn’t happen and what is happening on the ground are two different things,” notes Jill Seaton of the Jasper Environmental Association. “For example, there’s been no replacement habitat found and protected for the grizzly bears, which are, in effect, a threatened species in Alberta.”

Elk Valley Coal and its parent companies Teck Cominco and Fording Canadian Coal Trust are exceeding water quality guidelines in the McLeod River watershed, as a result of the selenium contamination from their existing Luscar and Gregg River mines, downstream from Cheviot. Added to this, without the promised plans in place to bring the levels within the guidelines, is the Cheviot haulroad development and first set of mining pits.

The coalition’s list includes pursuing their request that Fisheries and Oceans investigate damage from the 22 km long, side-by-side industrial and public road, which is continuing to slump and in other places sloughing above and below the roads.

The company doesn’t expect additional construction on the roads, now in use, and their 24 dug-outs or “settling ponds” to be completed for another six to eight months. It has yet to firm up plans to deal with the dust.

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