Taking on Coal to Protect Skeena Salmon

Taking on Coal to Protect Skeena Salmon

A proposal to build a coal mine near the Telkwa River threatens important salmon and steelhead runs in British Columbia.

The Telkwa River is one of the Skeena watershed’s most important tributaries, home to runs of many species of salmon and steelhead. But those runs are facing a new threat: a proposal from an Australian company to build a coal mine upstream from the Telkwa’s confluence with the Bulkley River (pictured above).

Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild, says his principal concerns about Allegiance Coal’s proposal, called the Tenas project, are acid rock drainage and metal contaminants. These issues are common to coal mines, and can have devastating environmental impacts. But so far, Knox says, the company seems to be downplaying these risks–and that’s bad news for the Telkwa’s salmon and steelhead runs, wildlife, and the drinking water and recreational life of nearby towns.

“Allegiance Coal has made it clear it’s not specifically looking at water quality,” says Knox, a close Wild Salmon Center partner. “So we’re pushing for that. We want to raise awareness of its many risks.”

Dip netters at Witset Canyon on the Bulkley River, upriver from its confluence with the Telkwa. (PC: SkeenaWild)

A draft environmental assessment for the Tenas project is open for public comments through July 23. (Canadians and non-Canadians alike can file a comment here.)  Comments will be considered for the project’s final environmental assessment, due out in early 2021. Knox hopes people will call out the project as risky and out of step in a world transitioning to cleaner energy, like producing steel from electricity and hydrogen rather than coal. 

“We’re trying to phase out coal everywhere, and they want to build another coal mine?” says Knox.

The Tenas proposal also surprised Knox for another reason. When the plan was first made public two years ago, the Bulkley Valley region hadn’t seen an active coal mine in decades. The village of Telkwa even fought off a coalbed methane project here fifteen years ago. With the price of coal in the tank and major coal companies filing bankruptcy with regularity, Knox says the project’s economic prospects feel about as iffy as its timing. He suspects the junior company may be more interested in flipping the claim site for a larger outfit than mining it itself. Regardless, the proposal keeps creeping forward, bringing the Tenas project closer to final permitting.  

“We don’t support new coal mines in general, and certainly not in this place specifically,” says Knox. “Luckily, a lot of people are already concerned about this project. They’ve seen how badly coal mines can play out for trout populations.

A lot of people are concerned about this project,” says Knox. “They’ve seen how badly coal mines can play out for trout populations.”

Canoeing on the Bulkley River. (PC: SkeenaWild)
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