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Piikani Nation opposes repeal of 1976 Coal Policy

From the Office of Piikani Nation Chief and Council.

Piikani Nation Chief and Council are aware that concerns have been raised in the community and in the media with respect to the Grassy Mountain Project and wish to address these concerns, particularly in light of the issues around the rescission of the 1976 Coal Policy by the Alberta government in May 2020.

It should be noted that although the Alberta government announced on February 8, 2021 that the 1976 Coal Policy will be reinstated pending a consultation process, there is yet no clear information on how the Alberta government proposes to consult with communities, like Piikani Nation.

The Proposed Project

The Grassy Mountain Mine Project is a metallurgical coal mining operation in the Crowsnest Pass region that has been proposed by Benga Mining Limited., a wholly owned subsidiary of Riversdale Resources Limited. The site of the proposed mine is approximately 1,500 hectares, a portion of which is an old mine site that was not reclaimed when the former mine closed. It will be located approximately 7 kilometers north of Blairmore within the unceeded territory of the Piikani Nation.

The production capacity of the proposed mine would be a maximum of 4.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year over a 25-year period. Metallurgical coal is used in the production of steel.

Proposed Project Context and Benefits

It is important to consider the context of the proposed Project. Unlike other First Nations in Alberta, Piikani Nation has to date not benefitted from revenue sharing or other economic development opportunities with project proponents in a variety of industries.

The potential benefit to the Piikani Nation resulting from the proposed Project was apparent to Piikani Nation Chief and Council when they first became aware of the proposed Project, provided that Benga was able to demonstrate its commitment to consult and work with Piikani as it relates to impacts on environmental concerns on an ongoing basis, and to ensure that the Piikani Nation receives a variety of economic development opportunities for the benefit of its people, including employment and community investment.

Some benefits from the relationship with Benga have already been realized, while others will be realized once the proposed project has been given approval by the provincial and federal regulators to proceed and will continue during the life of the Project, including:

  • An annual financial contribution to Piikani Nation Trust Account;

  • Employment policies to facilitate jobs and careers for Piikani members;

  • Annual contributions to scholarship programs and training opportunities for Piikani members;

  • Procurement policies to encourage participation by Piikani businesses, partnerships, and Piikani entrepreneurs, including early awareness of contracts and procurement needs;

  • Investment in community, social, and cultural programs;

  • Funding a Piikani Nation Coordinator staff position to focus on employment, training and business development initiatives;

  • Cultural Awareness training requirements for all Benga staff and contractors; and

  • Funding a Piikani environmental and community-based monitoring program throughout the life of the Project.

Consultation and Engagement Process

It is important to understand that the Piikani Nation is only one voice of many in the required consultation process. Benga, as the project proponent, is required to undertake an extensive consultation process and submit the results of that process, along with the results of environmental and other studies, to the Canadian Environmental Assessment

Agency (CEAA) and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for consideration as part of the regulatory approval process.

The information submitted by the Piikani Nation and other Indigenous communities about project impact and required conditions is only one part, albeit a significant part, of what is evaluated by the regulators.

While it is entirely possible that the regulators will approve a project without the consent or support of impacted Indigenous communities, a project proponent must undertake and fulfill the duty to consult with these communities in a substantive and meaningful way. If a project obtains regulatory approval, the project proponent must then evaluate any conditions on regulatory approval and decide whether or not to proceed.

In this case, Piikani Nation used the consultation process as an opportunity to assess the Project, and once satisfied that it was a worthwhile endeavour for its people, negotiated conditions for the Project, along with significant benefits to the Piikani Nation and its people. The lengthy consultation and engagement process between Piikani Nation and Benga over the past several years have included the following:

  • Piikani Nation study on Traditional Knowledge and Use of the Grassy Mountain Area was conducted by Piikani Elders and technicians;

  • Cumulative Impact Assessment study conducted by Piikani Nation;

  • Formal consultation on the concerns of Piikani Nation related to environment, Treaty Rights and cultural land uses, which lasted from 2014 to 2019 (roughly 6 years) prior to a support letter for the proposed Project being provided by Piikani;

  • Open houses and information sessions within Piikani that were open to community members;

  • Site tours of the proposed Project site by Piikani Chief and Council, Elders, and Consultation staff; and

  • Formal and ongoing review of studies and assessments related to noise, air quality, vegetation and wetlands, wildlife, water quality, socio-economic effects, and human health.

Benga has agreed to continue this consultation and engagement process with Piikani over the life of the Project (including reclamation) through:

  • Joint Implementation Committee co-chaired by Piikani representatives to advise Chief and Council and Benga executives on issues related to Employment and Training, Culture and Environment, Commercial Opportunities, and Community Investment;

  • Commercial Opportunities Working Group established to support Piikani businesses and partnerships to ensure their participation in the construction and operations of the Project, including reclamation;

  • Monthly meetings between Piikani Nation Chief and Council and Benga’s executive team; and

  • Community-based monitoring program developed and run by Piikani Nation to collect baseline environmental and cultural data and monitor the effects on these throughout the life of the Project.

Further information about the consultation and engagement process between Piikani Nation and Benga will be provided in a future community update.

Environment and Culture

As the closest First Nation to the proposed Project and its operations, Piikani Nation has insisted that Benga abide by and honour a number of conditions and commitments, including the following:

  • Benga will work with Piikani to develop an Access Management Plan to support Piikani Nation members in accessing non-operational Crown land and traditional use areas, and to access private land for the harvesting of timber and traditional plants;

  • Benga will develop and maintain a road watering plan to minimize dust;

  • Benga will develop and maintain an air monitoring program and will share the results of this program with Piikani on a regular basis;

  • Benga will fund and support a First Nations-led Environmental Stewardship Committee that will provide input and recommendations on environmental mitigation strategies and progressive reclamation;

  • Benga will develop and maintain a water monitoring program in place and will regularly review data collected by that program with Piikani;

  • Benga will maintain riparian buffers and undisturbed forested zones to support safe wildlife corridors, safe wildlife movement, and protect fish habitat;

  • Benga has committed to avoid disturbing Indigenous sacred sites where possible;

  • Benga will continue to engage with Piikani on mitigative solutions on traditional use areas that will be disturbed; and

  • Benga has agreed to undertake progressive reclamation (reclaiming land over the life of the Project) with significant input from Piikani, to ensure that the land is restored in a way that supports Treaty Rights and traditional land uses.

In summary, Piikani Nation’s involvement in the Grassy Mountain Project is conditional upon approval from CEAA and the AER, and more importantly is based upon: (1) the significant level of consultation and engagement undertaken to date by Benga; (2) Benga’s continued consultation and engagement with Piikani Nation; and (3) Benga meeting its obligations under the agreement reached between Benga and the Piikani Nation.

Other Coal Projects and Sites

Piikani Nation opposes the repeal of the 1976 Coal Policy. There was no consultation or engagement with Piikani by the Government of Alberta in respect of the repeal of the 1976 Coal Policy, which is a clear breach of the Crown’s obligation to meaningfully consult with Piikani.

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