A panorama of the Telkwa Coal open house Nov. 28, 2018 at Telkwa Elementary School. More recently the company put on two virtual open houses to give Bulkley Valley residents a chance to learn more and ask questions about the Tenas Project. (Chris Gareau photo)

Telkwa Coal aiming for late 2020 or early 2021 submission of environmental assessment

In a virtual open house held on June 17 a number of individuals from both Telkwa Coal and the Province’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) gathered to give an update on the Tenas Project and answer questions from the public about any concerns, comments or insight they have into the development.

The project, which is one of three coal deposits owned by Telkwa Coal, is located seven kilometres southwest of Telkwa.

A number of questions focused on the development’s impacts on the local environment, both in an environmental and a socioeconomic context.

“The railcar loadout is on flood plain ground,” one individual wrote. “There [have] been no mitigation discussions to protect the Bulkley River. What is the plan there?”

In response, Telkwa Coal’s Chief Operating Officer Dan Farmer said the company feels confident the risk is low.

“[Telkwa Coal] is confident the risk of this type of flood occurrence is low, given that the existing CN Rail line was actually closer to the Bulkley River [and] has been there for an extended long period of time and has not seen any damage or the need to be relocated due to flood events,” he explained.

READ MORE: Telkwa Coal holds open house

In addition, one participant asked the company what they were doing to minimize the risk of acid rock drainage (ARD) from the rocks they were mining.

In response, Angela Waterman, Telkwa Coal’s director of environment and government relations, explained the company has come up with a detailed plan to address this.

“We’ve undertaken extensive testing and have a database spanning many, many years,” she said, adding that about half of the rocks that will be mined are potentially acid generating. “We spent quite a bit of time evaluating various management options and selected to submerge any material that has the potential for ARD under a water cover [which is] an effective method for minimizing ARD.

Viewers also asked about the economic implications of the project and how many local jobs it would generate. Waterman said the project is expecting 150 jobs during peak construction, 170 jobs during peak operations and approximately 255 indirect jobs during the mine’s overall 25-year life.

In response to a question submitted by the Interior News about the status of discussions with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en on the environmental assessment process, Waterman explained discussions have recently restarted following a suspension due to a request from the Wet’suwet’en — specifically the Cas Yikh house membership, Dini’ze and Ts’ahe’ze —- to put the assessment on hold.

“As a result we paused our process and just restarted,” she said. “With the pause we have revised our estimated timeline and we will submit our formal application either late this year or early next.”

Project Assessment Director at the EAO Heather Noble said because there are no legislative timeframes within the pre-application phase COVID-19 has not impacted any schedules.

“Having said that there certainly are opportunities where we have [provided] additional time,” she said, adding that the EAO have made changes to standard timeframes in response to the pandemic. “Policy normally indicates that public comment period should be a minimum [of] 30 days, we’ve certainly noted that there needs to be additional time during [COVID-19] and so have increased the public comment period to 45 days.”

In addition, the EAO is offering additional time for any members of their technical workgroup who need extra time to finish their comments.

From Telkwa Coal’s perspective, Waterman said the company does not expect major delays as a result of the virus and that their main concern was ensuring they were doing their part to protect both their workers and the community at large.

“Back in March, we did take a number of precautionary measures, such as suspending our community engagement from mid-March onwards, closing our Telkwa office and our corporate office in Vancouver for a time.

Both those offices have since reopened after the Province announced a transition to Phase 2 of the provincial restart plan at the end of May.

Waterman said the company will continue to follow provincial guidance on COVID-19 as they go forward.

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