Bigger is not always better is what Telkwa Coal founder Mark Gray said this past spring.
But as it turns out, a bit bigger may be necessary.
The Allegiance Coal project near Telkwa is now planned to be above the threshold for an environmental review under Section 10 of the Environmental Assessment (EA) Act. Gray said the company submitted its information several weeks ago with the EA office and awaits a decision on how the review will continue.
The size is still within its originally proposed annual production rate of 240,000 to 900,000 tonnes; but instead of the originally suggested start of the pre-feasibility study production of the bottom end at 240,000 tonnes, it is now closer to the higher end at a current proposed production rate of 750,000 tonnes, according to Gray.
He said community consultation played a role in the change.
“It’s clear that the community wanted an environmental assessment review. And that sentiment was shared by people who are very supportive of the project as well as those who oppose it,” said Gray.
“So I certainly couldn’t ignore that.”
Other changes since the original idea was put forward also made it an economic necessity to scale up from the pre-feasibility study.
“Feedback from the residents who are quite close to the project, they were not comfortable with our salable coal being hauled along Coalmine Road, not withstanding its name. We had discussions with those residents and took those concerns on board,” explained Gray.
“Ultimately that led to my board deciding to build a private designated coal road. We were always going to build that road, just not always on day one. It was in our production plan to be built in around year three.”
That 11-kilometre hauling road from around Goathorn Creek to seven kilometres south of Telkwa along Lawson Road has a capital cost. There are two private properties and the rest is government land along the path.
CN Rail also required a larger rail loop at the loading area than Allegiance Coal expected.
“In fact, the loop is way too large for our requirements but it’s just a fact that line from [Prince] George to [Prince] Rupert is significantly busier with traffic — not just coal but all sorts of commodities — so we had to take our loop off the main track and have it completely independent of the main track, so that had an increased capital cost, too,” said Gray.
He does stress that the size of the mine is still considered small.
“To draw a comparison, that represents about two per cent of the coal that’s produced in the Elk Valley. It’s still very much a baby mine,” said Gray.
He explained that the pit size is about 60 per cent of the Tenas deposit.
A steady flow of local business owners keen to get involved have been streaming through the company’s Telkwa office in the municipal building on Hankin Avenue, according to Gray.
“Official hours are 12:30 to 4:30, but I’m typically there from 7 to 7 if not travelling.,” said Gray, who invited people to visit the office.
The next open house is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28 at the Telkwa Elementary School gym.
Under the Act, a review will determine if there is “significant adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage or health effect, taking into account practical means of preventing or reducing to an acceptable level any potential adverse effects of the project.” From there, it can determine if an assessment is needed and what scope it should have.
Gray said water quality is the number one concern.
“We are working on all that as part of our engineering design,” he said.
“The detail of how we manage surface water discharge into the river systems will become available to the regulators and the public for review and comment.”