While some groups may have breathed a sigh of relief last month when the Grassy Mountain Coal Project was denied by a joint review panel, many residents in the Crowsnest Pass say they were disappointed with the decision.
Hundreds showed up at the Hillcrest Miners Club on Thursday night in search of answers, with organizers saying the mine would have created countless new opportunities in the area.
“This was huge for us,” said Lisa Sygutek. “We have no young people in our community. We’re the oldest community, per capita, in Alberta. This could allow our children to live here.”
“This mine, I can’t even put into words how much it meant to this community as we move forward into a prosperous community that pulls our weight in Alberta.”
Organizer Eric Lowther says confusion over what led to the project being denied spurred the event, with those in attendance looking for answers.
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“I think a lot of the people coming here tonight are people who have families or businesses in the Crowsnest Pass, and they’ve been here for a long time,” Lowther said.
“They have seen the town and the area struggle and this was a ray of light, possibly, for the future of the town to be stronger.”
The decision in June, from the joint federal-provincial review panel, included a 680-page report saying that the Grassy Mountain mine was not in the public interest; citing impacts on Indigenous rights as well as environmental concerns.
The panel questioned the ability of Benga Mining, owned by Riversdale Resources, to control the release of selenium from the proposed open-pit coal mine.
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Organizers say those in attendance are also passionate about the environment and preserving the beautiful area they call home.
“With the right practices and in the 21st Century, the two can exist together,” said Lowther.
“Protect the environment and [provide] limited access to some of the best resources in the world.”
“Industry and environment can work hand-in-hand,” Sygutek agreed. “There’s science that can help us do what we need to do or there wouldn’t be coal mining anywhere in the world right now.”
She believes the panel’s decision was influenced by a “very small percentage of people with very loud voices” and says Thursday’s gathering was her community pushing back.
“This gives our community an opportunity to say: ‘You don’t get to do that to the Crowsnest Pass.’”
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Organizers say they hope to see the group continue to band together in support of coal’s future in the area.
Benga Mining announced earlier this week that it is beginning the process to appeal the decision.
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