Kootenay West gypsum mine granted an environmental assessment certificate

by Keith Powell
Michelle Mungall, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Michelle Mungall, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. — Photo courtesy BC Government

George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Michelle Mungall, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, have decided to issue an environmental assessment certificate to CertainTeed Gypsum Canada Inc. for the Kootenay West Mine project.

CertainTeed proposes a 135-hectare open-pit gypsum mine, located approximately 12 kilometres northeast of Canal Flats, and on the traditional territories of the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band. Kootenay West Mine is expected to produce 400,000 tonnes of gypsum per year over a 43-year mine life, and is intended to replace CertainTeed’s existing gypsum mine, Windermere Operations, near Invermere.

Having considered the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) assessment report and the recommendation of the executive director of the EAO to issue a certificate, the ministers are confident that the project will be constructed, operated and closed in a way that ensures that no significant adverse effects are likely to occur. A record of the factors that the ministers considered in making their decision can be found in the Reasons for Ministers’ Decision at: https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/p/kootenay-west-mine/detail

In their reasons, the ministers emphasized that the protection of water quality in the Kootenay River was extremely important. Ministers received assurances that water management structures and the sedimentation ponds for the project will be designed and constructed to stringent standards.

The assessment of the Kootenay West project was collaborative from the outset, with the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band preparing their respective sections of the application on behalf of CertainTeed. The EAO worked closely with the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band to identify concerns and develop conditions for the environmental assessment certificate, including conditions that establish CertainTeed’s ongoing engagement with them throughout the life of the project.

In addition to the 21 conditions that are part of the Kootenay West environmental assessment certificate, design requirements are specified in the certified project description. Each of the conditions and the certified project description are legally binding requirements that CertainTeed must meet to maintain compliance with the certificate. The conditions were developed following consultation and input from Indigenous groups, government agencies, communities and the public. CertainTeed is also required to obtain other provincial and local government permits to proceed with construction of the project. The EAO will co-ordinate compliance management efforts with other government agencies and Indigenous groups to ensure that certificate conditions are met.

An industrial mining operation.

An industrial mining operation. — Photo courtesy Mining & Energy

Key conditions for the project require CertainTeed to:

  • Develop a groundwater monitoring plan to identify baseline conditions and monitor groundwater quality through the life of the project;
  • Develop a dust management plan to address fugitive dust emissions within the project site and potential off-site impacts, including along the Kootenay Forest Service Road and nearby properties; 
  • Create a First Nations engagement and reporting plan to establish how CertainTeed will communicate with the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band throughout the life of the project;
  • Establish a cultural management plan to ensure protection of archaeological resources, support stewardship, cultural practice and intergenerational learning of the project location for future generations of the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Indian Band;
  • Create an owl-nesting monitoring plan, and a nesting and habitat survey to ensure protection of two nested breeding pairs in the area of the mine; and
  • Develop a wildlife management plan to mitigate adverse effects to bird-nesting habitats, ungulate-movement corridors, and restore vegetation.

As a result of feedback obtained during the environmental assessment, CertainTeed changed the haul route for the mine to avoid truck traffic through the village of Canal Flats. The alternative route (a forest service road east of Canal Flats) will be used and dust mitigation measures will be put in place — benefiting all users of the road.

Construction of the new mine is expected to create 43 full-time-equivalent positions over the 18-month construction period, with a further 40 full-time-equivalent positions generated in direct-supplier industries. Initially, CertainTeed expects that most of the 17 full-time employees at Windermere Operations will commute to Canal Flats to work at Kootenay West during operations; however, over time, those jobs would transition to employees from the Canal Flats area. Construction is expected to cost $23.7 million, with annual operating costs of $4.3 million.

British Columbia’s environmental assessment process offers significant opportunities for Indigenous groups, government agencies and the public to influence the outcome of environmental assessments by providing input on a proposed project’s potential environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects.

For more information on the environmental assessment process, please visit: http://www.eao.gov.bc.ca/process.html

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