Canada Will Review Mine Proposal North of Glacier

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – The Canadian government has formally announced plans to study a proposed coal mine just north of Glacier National Park, mining that has raised concern in Montana about transboundary environmental harm.

A notice the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency published last week says Fisheries and Oceans Canada must ensure that a comprehensive study of the Lodgepole Coal Mine, proposed for southeastern British Columbia, takes place. Canada’s Cline Mining Corp. wants to develop an open-pit mine requiring roads, rock dumps, a coal washing plant, a power-line corridor, a mine camp and fuel storage.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and others have expressed concern the mine would pollute water in the Flathead River system, which spans the British Columbia-Montana border. The Flathead’s North Fork forms the western boundary of Glacier Park, and Flathead water flows into Montana’s sprawling Flathead Lake. Critics of the mine say it threatens wildlife habitat, as well.

The mining proposal was before British Columbia regulators and will remain in their hands while also being examined at the federal level. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced in April that Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, confirmed the Cline project would be reviewed federally. The Bush administration challenged the coal project last winter.

Schweitzer has requested Canada conduct the most rigorous type of review allowed by law.

“We’re very hopeful that Canada will do its best review because of the importance of this area, not only the clean water but the critical wildlife area,” Hal Harper, an adviser to the governor, said Tuesday.

“If this area does not warrant the most comprehensive review available in Canada, what area would?”

The Canadian government will gather public comment to help determine the scope of the federal study, Elise Dhaussy of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said Tuesday from Ottawa. A 30-day public comment period is likely this winter, Dhaussy said, but there is no overall timetable for the review.

Canada’s environment minister ultimately has the option of referring the mine proposal to a mediator or review panel, she said.

Review by an independent panel appears the best option, said Will Hammerquist of the National Parks Conservation Association. That group is hopeful such a review would take into account the opinions of American scientists who have studied environmental issues on the Montana side of the Flathead Basin, Hammerquist said.

Baucus said he is encouraged that a federal review, even one that may fall short of the maximum rigor, is moving forward. That shows that “we’ve been successful in raising the profile of this debate to the highest levels of the Canadian government,” he said. “Remember, only a provincial-level review is required.”