LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. -- For many people living in the Crowsnest Pass, the proposed Grassy Mountain coal project presented an opportunity to get back to the region's glory days.

However, a recent panel review found Benga Mining Limited’s Grassy Mountain Coal project is not in the public interest and has denied the provincial applications citing environmental concerns such as the impact on water quality, native trout species and biodiversity in the region.

For Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter, the report came as a shocking disappointment.

"Our community was founded on coal. That's what our community does and it has from day one," said Painter.

"Right now, there's a great demand for high-grade metallurgical coal. This would have definitely given us the opportunity to diversify our tax base."

According to the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce, the majority of businesses in the area are in favour of the project.

"There were over 150 businesses directly contacted and individually interviewed. 72 per cent said they would be positively impacted by the mine, five per cent said negative, and 13 per cent said not at all," said Chamber of Commerce president Sacha Anderson.

DIVISIVE SUBJECT

It's a divisive subject for many region's residents who have been weighing the economic benefits against the environmental impact of a new coal mine.

Painter said the financial perks would not only impact business owners, but everyone in the surrounding communities.

"Right now, over 80 per cent of our taxes are based on residential taxes and we do not have an industry," he said.

"So this would have taken a little bit of the burden off of all of our residents. Unfortunately how it sits today, that won't happen."

The project would have gone ahead in an area that was previously mined in the 1960s and 70s when environmental restrictions were much more lenient. 

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However, times have changed.

"It was left in not very good environmental conditions," said Painter.

"[The project] would have given the opportunity to have the next 23 to 25 years of employment for our residents, and then when the project was done, the opportunity to clean it up."

In a statement, Benga Mining Limited, operating as Riversdale Resources, said:

"The capital expenditure for the proposed project is approximately $800M and approximately 500 jobs would be created during construction and 385 full-time site positions at full production."

However, the review panel report said that "Benga had inflated the job numbers and tax royalties. The review panel report said their projected royalty figure was five times higher than any existing coal mine in Alberta."

'GOOSE BUMPS'

For many Crowsnest Pass locals who have been battling the proposed coal development project on Grassy Mountain, Thursday's report from the review panel was overwhelming and emotional.

"Every time we talk about it, I get goose bumps going up and down my whole body. I'm ecstatic," said Susan Douglas-Murray, a Coleman resident who has lived in the area for more than 20 years.

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"Just about everybody I know feels the same way. We're just still trying to absorb the fact that this is quite likely to come to an end."

The Livingstone Landowners Group has been outspoken on the issue from the beginning, calling for an end to all mining activity on the eastern slopes of Alberta's Rocky Mountains.

The group's spokesperson Bobbi Lambright said, considering there are still seven active coal mine leases, their work isn't done, but this is a positive step.

"We're just so pleased that all of the information that was presented was taken to heart and it resulted in recognition by the panel that this was definitely the wrong thing to do," said Lambright.

"What we want at both the federal and provincial level is to see protection of the Eastern Slopes clearly defined in legislation."

The Grassy Mountain would have had a production capacity of up to 4.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year for roughly 23 years.

Riversdale Resources said it will be consulting with legal counsel to review options moving forward.