Written by Michael B. Niven, Ryan J. Barata, and Jasdeep Nijjer.
Carscallen LLP lawyers Michael B. Niven, Q.C., Ryan J. Barata and articling student Jasdeep Nijjer, on behalf of their client the Municipal District of Ranchland No. 66, successfully opposed the recent Grassy Mountain Coal Project (the “Project”) in a recent environmental review application for the Project.
The Project proponent, Benga Mining Limited (“Benga”), an Australian-based company operating as Riversdale Resources, filed its environmental review application for approval to construct, operate, and reclaim a new open-pit metallurgical coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass area, approximately seven kilometres north of the community of Blairmore in southwest Alberta. The Project footprint would have covered 1521 hectares in what was found to be a sensitive mountain environment.
Last week, a joint review panel (“Panel”) of the Alberta Energy Regulator found the Project was not in the public interest and denied applications for provincial permits for the Project. In denying approval of the Project, the Panel concluded that the Project was likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects on:
- surface water quality;
- westslope cutthroat trout and their habitat;
- whitebark pine;
- rough fescue grasslands; and
- vegetation species and community biodiversity.
The Panel also identified other adverse residual effects and found that the Project was likely to contribute to existing significant adverse cumulative environmental effects on:
- westslope cutthroat trout;
- little brown bats;
- grizzly bears; and
- whitebark pine.
Although Benga had argued the Project would create 400 full-time jobs in the area over a 23-year life span of the mine and the Project was supported by many in the Crowsnest Pass area, including Crowsnest Pass mayor Blair Painter as well as the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce, the Panel concluded the Project would result in low to moderate positive economic impacts on the regional economy. The Panel also found that Benga did not consider certain risks that could reduce the magnitude of these positive impacts.
With respect to the Project’s effects on Indigenous groups and their members in the area, the Panel found that the Project would:
- result in the loss of lands used for traditional activities;
- affect Indigenous groups and their members who use the Project area; and
- likely to result in significant adverse effects to physical and cultural heritage for three Treaty 7 First Nations.
The panel also concluded that mitigation measures proposed by Benga were not sufficient to fully mitigate these significant adverse effects.
Overall, the Panel concluded that the Project was not in the public interest, because the Project’s significant adverse environmental effects on surface water quality and westslope cutthroat trout and habitat outweighed the low to moderate positive economic impacts of the Project.
Carscallen LLP was privileged to represent MD Ranchland in this important proceeding. We’re pleased that our client got the result it wanted. We thank the panel for its thorough and well-reasoned decision.
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*This update is intended for general information only on the subject matter and is not to be taken as legal advice.