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Posted: January 26, 2018

Canal Flats area gypsum mine granted EA certificate

The provincial government has given the go-ahead for a new gypsum mine that will be located about 12 km northeast of Canal Flats up the Kootenay River drainage.

George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Michelle Mungall, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, announced Jan. 25 they have decided to issue an environmental assessment certificate to CertainTeed Gypsum Canada Inc. for the Kootenay West Mine project, which has been in the planning stages for much of this century.

CertainTeed proposes a 135-hectare open-pit gypsum mine on the traditional territories of the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band, on the southeast-facing slope of Mt. Desmet. Kootenay West Mine is expected to produce 400,000 tonnes of gypsum per year over a 43-year mine life, and is intended to replace CertainTeed’s existing gypsum mine, Windermere Operations, east of Invermere.

Having considered the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) assessment report and the recommendation of the executive director of the EAO to issue a certificate, the ministers are confident that the project will be constructed, operated and closed in a way that ensures that no significant adverse effects are likely to occur. A record of the factors that the ministers considered in making their decision can be found in the Reasons for Ministers’ Decision.

Kootenay River north east of Canal Flats.

In their reasons, the ministers emphasized that the protection of water quality in the Kootenay River was extremely important. Ministers received assurances that water management structures and the sedimentation ponds for the project will be designed and constructed to stringent standards.

The assessment of the Kootenay West project was collaborative from the outset, with the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band preparing their respective sections of the application on behalf of CertainTeed. The EAO worked closely with the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band to identify concerns and develop conditions for the environmental assessment certificate, including conditions that establish CertainTeed’s ongoing engagement with them throughout the life of the project.

In addition to the 21 conditions that are part of the Kootenay West environmental assessment certificate, design requirements are specified in the certified project description. Each of the conditions and the certified project description are legally binding requirements that CertainTeed must meet to maintain compliance with the certificate. The conditions were developed following consultation and input from Indigenous groups, government agencies, communities and the public. CertainTeed is also required to obtain other provincial and local government permits to proceed with construction of the project. The EAO will co-ordinate compliance management efforts with other government agencies and Indigenous groups to ensure that certificate conditions are met, a joint Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Environmental Assessment Office news release stated.

Maps from EA Report

Key conditions for the project require CertainTeed to:

* Develop a groundwater monitoring plan to identify baseline conditions and monitor groundwater quality through the life of the project;

* Develop a dust management plan to address fugitive dust emissions within the project site and potential off-site impacts, including along the Kootenay Forest Service Road and nearby properties;

* Create a First Nations engagement and reporting plan to establish how CertainTeed will communicate with the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band throughout the life of the project;

* Establish a cultural management plan to ensure protection of archaeological resources, support stewardship, cultural practice and intergenerational learning of the project location for future generations of the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band;

* Create an owl-nesting monitoring plan, and a nesting and habitat survey to ensure protection of two nested breeding pairs in the area of the mine; and

* Develop a wildlife management plan to mitigate adverse effects to bird-nesting habitats, ungulate-movement corridors, and restore vegetation.

As a result of feedback obtained during the environmental assessment, CertainTeed changed the haul route for the mine to avoid truck traffic through the Village of Canal Flats. The alternative route (the old mill access road) will be used and dust mitigation measures will be put in place – benefiting all users of the road, the provincial news release said. The EA report notes gypsum will be hauled “via haul trucks along the Kootenay Forest Service Road to Highway 93/95. From there, trucks will either travel north on Hwy 93/95 via Hwy 93 to Exshaw and Calgary, AB or south on Hwy 93/95 via Hwy 3 to Lethbridge, AB. Gypsum will also be sent via rail to Vancouver, from rail load-out facilities in either Canal Flats or Invermere.”

Construction of the new mine is expected to create 43 full-time-equivalent positions over the 18-month construction period, with a further 40 full-time-equivalent positions generated in direct-supplier industries.

Initially, CertainTeed expects that most of the 17 full-time employees at Windermere Operations will commute to Canal Flats to work at Kootenay West during operations. However, over time, those jobs would transition to employees from the Canal Flats area. Construction is expected to cost $23.7 million, with annual operating costs of $4.3 million. The expected lifespan of the proposed mine is 38 years.

The Windermere Operations is the longest continuously running open pit mining operation in B.C., dating back to 1950. 


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