January 16, 2006

Strict conditions placed on proposal for surface coal mine in Cape Breton region

A proposal by Pioneer Coal for surface coal mining in Cape Breton's Point Aconi area must meet detailed conditions as part of the next phase of the approval process. The environmental assessment (EA) approval recently issued to the Antigonish company outlined numerous issues to must be addressed in the next stage of the process.

"Among them, we have requested the establishment of a community liaison committee and a third-party review of groundwater management plans," said Environment and Labour Minister Kerry Morash. "There also has to be a detailed and feasible plan for reclaiming the land -- while mining is still in progress -- so that we can gauge its success. Further, there has to be meaningful, effective public consultation," he added.

Morash said the approval's conditions are required by the complexity of the site. "We have to protect the environment, and this location presents challenging issues such as old tunnels from the Prince Mine and from illegal mining, and the protection of groundwater," he explained.

He further noted that the decision on this proposal was based on a cumulative effects study on surface coal mining in Cape Breton, commissioned earlier this year. The Minister recently released the final report on this study (ELW January 9, 2006).

In addition to establishing a community liaison committee (CLC), the EA approval requires the company to develop and submit for approval by the department a dispute arbitration process and policy to address environmental concerns arising during the project's mining and reclamation activities. Pioneer must also develop, in consultation with the CLC, an environmental protection plan and a complete reclamation plan, to be submitted as part of the application for approval under Nova Scotia's Environment Act.

The EA approval contains detailed conditions requiring plans for groundwater and surface water protection, including modelling and monitoring work and mitigation strategies. These must be reviewed by an independent third party. Plans must be in place as well for surface water collection systems capable of diverting all mine water and site runoff, and for long-term acid rock drainage management.

Other terms of the approval address wildlife issues, wetlands, air quality and dust (including blasting), noise and visual impacts, transportation issues, and mine development and operation.

The provincial Environment Act requires Pioneer Coal, as the proponent, to obtain an EA approval and an industrial approval before it can begin work. An EA approval must be granted if the applicant establishes that the project will have no adverse environmental effects or that adverse environmental effects can be mitigated. It is typically issued with conditions identifying potential effects and directing the proponent to address them. An industrial approval requires a detailed, practical plan from the applicant for averting or mitigating those effects.

The decision may be viewed on the department's Web site, www.gov.ns.ca/enla/ea/.

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