Tahltan First Nation objects to environmental ‘fast-tracking’ of project
The B.C. Liberals risk breaking an important election promise by “fast-tracking” an environmental assessment of an open-pit coal mine in the so-called Sacred Headwaters of the Klappan in northwest B.C., Tahltan First Nation charged Friday.
“There has been opposition and resistance by our people,” said Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee said in an interview.
“To have an open-pit coal mine right in the headwaters … our people are opposed to development there. We want to see long-term protection that excludes having a coal mine in that area.”
The planned Arctos Anthracite Project would have a footprint of about 4,000 hectares, not including a railway line, and would produce an estimated three million tonnes per year of anthracite coal over the mine’s 25-year life span. Anthracite coal has a high carbon content and burns with a clean flame. It is primarily used in steel and metal making.
The project is a joint venture of Fortune Coal Ltd. and POSCO Klappan Coal Ltd., whose parent company is a South Korean steel giant.
McPhee said the Tahltan have fought for years to stop development of the Klappan coal deposits, including elders arrested in a protest at the site in 2005.
The Sacred Headwaters has significant cultural, spiritual, and social values for First Nations and is the source of the salmon-bearing Stikine, Nass, and Skeena rivers.
The prospect of a coal mine, McPhee said, is at odds with the Liberals’ official platform during the election campaign stating the party “will work with communities, First Nations and industry to examine the feasibility of developing a provincially designated protected area in the Klappan.”
Detailed discussions have not taken place on the boundaries of a protected area, but First Nations reject the idea of such an area coexisting with an open-pit mine at Klappan.
While the Tahltan are involved in mining elsewhere in their territory, McPhee said the Arctos coal mine’s operations would impact “one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the Klappan” where her people maintain traditional hunting camps.
In response, Ministry of Environment spokesman Suntanu Dalal said the province will establish a provincial round table of representatives from communities, industry, labour, First Nations and the environmental community “to provide guidance to government on how to balance the need to protect important parts of the environment with the need to create jobs and wealth” in B.C.
Rick Schryer, director of regulatory and environmental affairs, for Fortune said that streamlining of the environmental process through substitution is “clearly not fast-tracking but rather the elimination of unnecessary duplication” from a process that includes studies on such areas as fisheries habitat, water quality, wildlife populations, terrestrial ecosystems, archeology, and First Nation traditional knowledge.
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