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

Court allows massive mine on doorstep of Jasper National Park despite objections from feds and conservationists

Canada’s Federal Court released a disappointing decision late yesterday that will allow a massive open-pit coal mine development on the doorstep of Jasper National Park to proceed — despite serious concerns from conservation groups from across the country and officials within the federal government. The conservation groups are now reviewing the 45-page decision to determine if there are grounds for appeal.

Sierra Legal Defence Fund launched the court case on behalf of five Canadian conservation groups that are opposed to allowing the substantially revised Cheviot mine project to proceed without undergoing a new environmental assessment. The groups asserted that the project changed significantly since it was first proposed in 1996 and that an updated environmental assessment was required to address its effects.

“We asked the Court to ensure that the glaringly obvious environmental concerns regarding this project are appropriately mitigated,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Justin Duncan. “Simply put, the federal government authorized activities that will result in the destruction of the habitat for grizzlies and thousands of migratory birds and the Court was unable to correct this oversight.”

The case was launched on behalf of Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, Sierra Club of Canada, Nature Canada, Jasper Environmental Association and Alberta Wilderness Association. The groups argued that the federal government’s authorization of the first section of the mine should be quashed because it would result in the destruction of migratory bird habitat and contravene the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

“They expanded the mine site, taking in the McLeod River valley and severing wildlife habitat, including that required by the region’s threatened grizzly bear population,” said Dianne Pachal of the Sierra Club of Canada. “That the Court and the federal government would allow this type of development without the scrutiny of an environmental assessment is devastating for the land, watershed and wildlife habitat.”

The open-pit coal mine, the length of which is comparable to the width of Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, is proposed for a mountain area that has been designated by the federal and provincial government as “nationally significant” for its unique natural features. One-fifth of the mine was approved by the federal authorization challenged in court. If the open-pit mine is fully developed, the Canadian Wildlife Service estimates that habitat for up to 5,000 songbirds will be lost. Serious concerns were raised by both Environment Canada and Parks Canada officials with regards to the modified project’s environmental impacts.

“It is terribly unfortunate that the court failed to recognize how this decision will adversely affect the region’s songbirds, as well as one of the largest breeding populations of Harlequin ducks in Alberta,” said Julie Gelfand, president of Nature Canada. “The Cheviot area is rich in biological diversity and we are very disappointed that an open-pit mine will exist less than three kilometres from Jasper national Park, which is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

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