First Nations in Alberta challenge federal decision to kill Grassy Mountain coal project

Provincial and federal approvals are needed to proceed.

Two First Nations want to appeal the rejection of an open-pit coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass. A review board said the mine was not in the public interest. Photo: APTN file


Two First Nations in southwestern Alberta are seeking to overturn a recent federal decision to reject the controversial Grassy Mountain coal project in the Rocky Mountains.

The federal environment minister turned down the project in August saying public and pollution concerns outweigh the economic impacts.

But the Stoney Nakoda and Piikani nations filed separate applications for a judicial review in Federal Court, according to court documents obtained by APTN News this week.

The bands are also trying to appeal a provincial decision by the Alberta Energy Regulator to oppose the open-pit coal mine proposed by Benga Mining Ltd.

Provincial and federal approvals are needed for the project to proceed.

Riversdale Resources Ltd.

Benga Mining, a subsidiary of Australian-owned Riversdale Resources Ltd., has applied to reopen an old coal mine on the eastern slope of the Crowsnest Pass. It would  produce the raw material to make “metallurgical steel” over its 23-year lifespan.

The company said the mine would create about 500 jobs during two years of construction and 400 more during its operation. It said it would pay $1.7 billion in royalties and $35 million in municipal taxes during that time.

Benga, like the Stoney Nakoda and Piikani, has also filed for court permission to challenge the lack of approvals that followed the joint provincial-federal review process.

The bands say the proposed mine falls within their traditional and Treaty 7 territories.

They confirm in their court documents they have entered into confidential impact benefit agreements with Benga.

Their concerns

They say the benefit agreements address their concerns, recognize their “Aboriginal and treaty” rights, and provide their communities with employment and economic development initiatives.

The Stoney Nakoda, in its federal court filing, allege the federal government failed to consider the negative impact on them of refusing the project.

“The JRP (joint-review panel) fettered its discretion under the JRP Agreement terms of reference by not considering what the beneficial impacts would have been on the Stoney Nakoda if the Project were to proceed, and by not considering the adverse impacts that denial of the Project would have on the Stoney Nakoda,” it said.

The Piikani state they rarely benefit from economic development and that’s why they support the project.

“These benefits are particularly important to Piikani Nation as its reserve is not located in an area that has typically resulted in these types of opportunities,” it wrote.

“This was the first significant economic opportunity of this kind available to Piikani Nation.”

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.