— coal contamination on beach confirmed by citizen lab test, suggests terminal violating existing export permit
Vancouver — An email sent April 10th by the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) to a concerned citizen revealed that the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) quietly approved up to a 20 fold expansion in coal exports from Texada Island one month earlier. The Lafarge Canada facility on Texada currently handles up to 400,000 tonnes of coal each year from Quinsam Mine on Vancouver Island, but the permit amendment now means that it could handle up to 8 million tonnes of US thermal coal each year, delivered by barge from Fraser Surrey Docks, if the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority approves that company’s proposal to build a coal terminal. A decision by the Port is expected in June.
Long delayed public notice of a contentious decision
The April 10 email, sent by the EAO to a BC resident who had expressed opposition to coal export expansion, states
“On March 12, 2014, the Ministry of Energy and Mines issued a Mines Act amendment with conditions to Texada Quarrying Ltd [Lafarge]. I suggest that you follow up directly with the Ministry of Energy and Mines if you have any questions regarding the amendment.”
Follow up with MEM staff on April 10th 2014 confirmed that the permit had been issued a month earlier, but staff would not release the permit until First Nations and Regional Districts were notified — which still had not happened as of this week. The Sechelt First Nation, Sunshine Coast Regional District and the Islands Trust, and the MLA for Texada Island, Nicholas Simons, were all notified of the permit approval by BC residents.
Chief Calvin Craigan of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation issued the following statement on learning of the decision:
“The provincial government is making it clear that they intend to try to push their agenda through at all costs. They are amending laws, ignoring coastal communities, ignoring First Nations, and ignoring the impacts of this project on resources in our traditional territory. This project is not in the best interests of any coastal community. The Sechelt First Nation, local governments and coastal residents will stand together to stop this project. We have no choice.”
Dozens of documented communications took place between MLA’s, ministers and government staff, and BC residents and representatives of NGO’s working on the coal export issue in the period since March 12 2014. As recently as April 11th a constituent spoke with her MLA, Environment Minister Mary Polak, by telephone about the issue. At no point — outside of the April 10th email — did any government representative, including the Minister, indicate that the Texada Island coal export permit had already been issued.
“Was it only an inadvertent slip that the EAO email mentioned the permit had been issued? Was government intentionally trying to keeping this quiet, or had staff simply not bothered to inform the public, our Ministers and MLA’s that the permit had been issued?” asks Donald Gordon, spokesperson for Coal Dust Free Salish Sea and Voters Taking Action on Climate Change director. “Either way, it’s outrageous that First Nations, Regional Districts and residents were not promptly notified of a government decision on a highly contentious issue. Is it likely that Lafarge has been kept in the dark about this approval for the past four weeks?”
Residents and landowners from Lasqueti and Texada Islands repeatedly asked to review a revised storm water management plan that government requested from Lafarge Canada prior to the permitting decision. However, MEM failed to respond to residents’ queries and issued the permit without providing the revised plan for their review and comment.
Citizens from the surrounding area are now reviewing all their options for challenging the decision.
Coal on the beach near the Lafarge terminal — violating the facility’s existing Mines Act permit?
Local residents and land owners have made 4 visits to the Texada Island coal handling facility since summer 2013, each time documenting coal on the beach that is presumably being lost into the water during coal handling. The existing Lafarge permit explicitly prohibits release of coal into the “water or foreshore” at the coal loading facility.
MEM and the Ministry of Environment (MOE) were notified twice in 2013 that coal was found on the beach. MEM responded by sending a technician to the site on February 17 2014, and reported that no coal contamination was present in the area. However, at their own expense, residents and land owners geo-referenced, photographed and collected coal samples for testing by an independent lab.
Lab results show a chemical signature consistent with coal. In addition, the samples showed extremely high levels of arsenic, suggesting Quinsam coal mine on Vancouver Island as the source of the coal. Earlier studies have indicated elevated levels of arsenic in coal mined at Quinsam. Environmental specialist Dr André Sobolewski reviewed the lab results and found the elevated level of arsenic in the samples troubling, given its potential to leach into the environment and accumulate in shellfish harvested by local First Nations. He urges MOE to conduct immediate follow up studies to determine if arsenic contaminates local shellfish.
The photo below shows coal on the beach near the Texada Island facility. More photos available here.
“We have clear evidence that Lafarge is already allowing coal to escape from its current small stockpiles into the surrounding beaches and foreshore. We’ve brought that evidence to the Ministry of Mines, but they have dismissed it and are doing nothing to address what appears to be a significant breach of Lafarge’s existing permit. We’ve had to collect donations to have coal samples tested in the lab because government is not doing its job.” said Donald Gordon. “Why should we expect that Lafarge and the Ministry of Mines will do a better job when they are handling 8 million tonnes of coal a year?”
Is it legal to authorize an 8 million tonne coal port through a Mines Act Quarry Permit?
Concerned residents also question why the province proposes to regulate an 8 million tonne/year coal port by amending a permit issued to Lafarge for operation of their limestone quarry on the island. Bulk coal shipping facilities fall under the Environmental Management Act, and given the existing pollution concerns with the Lafarge site citizens think an environmental permit, not a mines permit, should be required. However so far MOE is sitting on the sidelines and letting MEM pretend that a massive coal export operation is really a mining operation that falls under the Mines Act. Lawyers are currently reviewing the legality of this scheme.