Native group in Alberta takes wary approach to Vista coal project

The Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation on Dec. 12 confirmed its commitment to remaining fully involved in all regulatory proceedings regarding Coalspur‘s Vista surface coal mine project in western Canada.

Both the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) granted Alexis standing to participate at hearings on the basis that the Vista mine project and the related AltaLink Substation Project have the potential to adversely impact the First Nation. The substation will be a conduit for electricity to be used to power coal mine operations.

The AER hearing will commence on Jan. 13, 2014, and the AUC hearing is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2014. At these hearings, the regulators will consider whether or not the projects should be approved. Each regulator will have up to 90 days to render its decision following the completion of each hearing, which may be subject to further review by either party.

“The impact of the two projects will be unique to us and we remain committed to submitting evidence at the hearings about the impacts to our Aboriginal and Treaty rights. The projects are in the heart of our traditional territory and we have four reserves and important waterways nearby. Therefore, we bear the responsibility of protecting our environment and resources in order for our people to continue to carry on our way of life. Indeed, we have a responsibility to our members, our neighbours and to all Albertans,” said Chief Tony Alexis.

The Vista mine project is proposed at a time when Alexis said it has experienced first hand the environmental risks associated with coal mine projects. The Oct. 31, 2013, Obed Mountain coal mine pit leak, located in Alexis Territory, resulted in 670 million litres of contaminated water and 90,000 tonnes of coal sludge from a tailings pond leaking into the Athabasca River.

“In light of the tragic Obed Mountain Mine environmental disaster, the regulators must listen very closely to our concerns about further proposed coal mine activity in our Territory. During this long and difficult process, the Alexis leadership has found strength by the guidance we received from our Elders reminding us of our sacred obligations as stewards of the land and water. Water is the lifegiver and without clean water, there would be no life on this planet. This cannot be taken for granted,” stated Chief Tony Alexis.

As for the AUC hearing, Alexis said it has yet to be engaged by AltaLink despite its efforts to advance discussions. Chief Tony Alexis said he remains committed to addressing Alexis’ concerns directly with Coalspur and AltaLink. “While we are continuing discussions with Coalspur, it is unclear whether or not all of our concerns can be accommodated under an Agreement. We will try our best. As for Altalink, I can’t see how we can avoid that hearing.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.