CROWSNEST PASS, ALTA. -- After the UCP government announced in May it was rescinding the 1976 Coal Mining Policy that prohibits open-pit operations in the Rocky Mountains and foothills, several proposals have been put forward, which officials say could lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs in the Crowsnest Pass area.

“As long as we follow the environmental policies, I absolutely, fully support industry because it’s creating jobs, it’s giving out kids a future,” said Garett Schmidt who uses the area to quad.

“We can’t have people jobless and homeless, we’re resource-rich.”

Benga Mining Ltd — an Australian company that's a subsidiary of Riversdale Resources Ltd. — has bid to build the Grassy Mountain Coal project north of Blairmore, Alta. which, according to the company, will occupy 1,500 hectares.

Some, like Schmidt, see mines in the area as a potential economic boom, but others don’t share the same optimism.

“The devastation it would rot on this part of the world is not an acceptable trade-off for a few dollars and a few jobs,” said Dr. Alan Garbutt who used to practice in the area.

Now retired, Garbutt — who also holds a PHD in wildlife biology — cites previous reports on U.S. coal mining communities, and how mines having affected the health of those residents.

“The mere presence of a coal mine in the vicinity causes great increases in a lot of health problems," he said.

"Ranging from premature births and low birth weight babies to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and Cardiac and stoke problems." 

Environmentalists are also worried about the impact on habitat, wildlife, water quality and air pollution.

In July, the Alberta Wilderness Association says it was heartened by the provincial energy regulator's decision to deny an exploration application in the Grande Cache area.

Similarly to the Grande Cache area, Garbutt is fearful of the wildlife around the Crowsnest Pass.

“The fly-fishermen that frequent the Crowsnest Pass won’t have any fish to catch unless these guys are way more effective than anyone else has ever been at treating selenium,” said Garbutt.

The Livingstone Land Owners Group says Selenium is known to causes deformities and deaths in fish but the company claims that's inaccurate According to Benga Mining Ltd., the element's impact on fish is limited to an interruption of their reproductive capability.

The Grassy Mountain Coal Project passed its environmental assessment, which now moves to the public input stage.

Public hearings are expected to start in October, giving residents a chance to voice their opinion on the project.

An open coal mining debate is also being held in Calgary at the Deane House in Inglewood on Sept. 20 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. It will feature five panelists discussing the pros and cons of coal mining in the Crowsnest Pass.


The original version of this story indicated the mine would occupy approximately 2,800 hectares. Benga Mining Ltd. says it will occupy 1,500 hectares.