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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - December 4, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta District THe LetWnidge Herald Local Second Section Lethbridge, Alberta, Wednesday, December 4, 1974 Pages 11-22 Strings tied to coal exploration leases 'secret' Government keeps mum on environment defence By AL SCARTH Herald Staff Writer First of a series EDMONTON A shroud of govern- ment secrecy hangs over coal ex- ploration in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The provincial department of lands and forests has clamped the lid on en- vironmental conditions it imposes on explorations for coal along the slopes. A concerted campaign by at least two naturalists' organizations has failed to lift that lid The government imposed the cloak of secrecy on the grounds that infor- mation exchanged between the com- petitive coal industry and government departments should be confidential In the case of a 36-section parcel of land being explored amid the spec- tacular beauty north of the Crowsnest Pass, the government won't say what Granby Mining of Vancouver is doing to protect the alpine environment. Granby was granted an exploration permit last May to continue work in an area explored earlier by CanPac Mining The region lies about 35 miles north of the Crowsnest Pass. It is in a triangular area bounded by the Livingstone River and northwest branch of the Oldman River. CanPac bulldozed about 75 miles of exploration road into the area, 50 of which remain open Granby has add- ed only a few miles and is said to be givng the government excellent co- operation The exploration permit was granted only four months before the government's Environment Conser- vation Authority recommended the entire area be protected as a "wild river" natural region It is one of scores of permits granted by lands and forests during a freeze on land development imposed while the government awaited word from the conservation authority on what should be done with the eastern slopes. The department says exploration is not considered development, is restricted to present areas being min- ed or explored and is under strict supervision by land-use officers. The issue has landed Lands and Forests Minister Allan Warrack in hot water with environmental and wildlife organizations. In the case of Granby, the department's fish and wildlife divi- sion opposed the exploration from field to policy-making levels, The Herald has learned. "It was one of the few times people in our division completely agreed on anything It was backed to the one official in the division told The Herald Conditions attached While other members of an interdepartmental coal exploration review committee saw the issue differently, the committee deferred approval of the permit so the division could make its case with Deputy Minister Bob Steele. The committee, which advises lands and forests on granting explora- tion permits, also held a supplemen- tary meeting to hear other concerns about the application voiced by the land-use division of the department. Mr Steele eventually authorized the exploration permit May 30; at- taching 22 standard and 12 additional environmental conditions, which he won't reveal Among those conditions, recommended by the committee, was GRANBY MINING CLEANING UP ADIT LEFT BY CANPAC'S OPERATION an increase to from in the bond posted by the company. The committee noted that the forestry division of lands and forests had experienced problems with CanPac's reclaiming of adits (tunnels) and trenches in the same area Scar reseeded Granby "cleaned up" the area for CanPac when it moved in this summer, says G. D. Mittelstadt, manager of the project. The company recontoured and has now reseeded a large adit scar on Isolation Ridge. Mr. Mittelstadt says. The government is "reasonably satisfied" with the way the affected landscape is being reclaimed, "but it was very says one land-use official The Herald has learned of some of the conditions, considered secret by the department, under which Granby is operating its "Granridge The trench, access road and drill site locations proposed in (legal description of a half-section) are not approved and must be considered deleted from this project; Hand trenching should be given first consideration for trench construction in locations which can create restoration difficulties; Prior to trench construction on steep slopes, sod must be stripped and piled separate, by hand for site restoration topsoil on all trench, drill and adit sites must be stripped and piled separately for restoration purposes; At completion of the trench construction, the black spoil and coal should be returned to the trench first, followed by the topsoil and then capped with the salvage sod, All trails, trenches, drill and adit sites must be landscaped to the original contours of the land reclamation to be kept current with the exploration project surface disturbances to be reseeded to a mix- ture of timothy, brome, creeping red and Kentucky blue grasses fer- tilizer should be applied at the rate of 100 pounds per acre a second application may be required The authorization of this explora- tion program does not in any way commit the department to the issuance of a lease for mining; The conditions are supervised in the field by a land-use officer. Some officials in the department shake their heads at why the con- ditions should be kept secret. "The department is just giving itself a needless black eye, when it should be applauded for imposing excellent says one civil servant. However, Dr. Warrack says the department cannot violate the trust if has established with the industry. "The major thing as I see it is that the reclamation requirements are broad enough in scope to cover what's being done." The department will release its general set of conditions but not which of those conditions app- ly to specific projects. Specific conditions "We don't give the public any details of individual coal permits, says Mr. Steele. "Some of the con- ditions are very specific and can in- dicate exactly what activity is being carried out." How does this approach fit in with the government's much-publicized stand that environmental information is public information? Environment Minister Bill Yurko concedes that departments must con- sider as confidential some "inner workings" of projects which don't affect the public but might affect a company's competitive position. But, "If the imposition of restric- tions or sta'ndards are to protect the public from the company, then the public has every right to know the standards and requirements under which the company is he says Asked to comment on the coal ex- ploration controversy in general, Mr Yurko carefully stays out of the spotlight. "That's Dr Warrack's is his reply. Public revelations that lands and forests was granting exploration per- mits during a freeze on development in the eastern slopes, announced in the Spring of 1973 to the legislature by Mr. Yurko, surfaced this fall. During freeze "We had been receiving reports from various sources that exploration activity was going on, as early as says Paul Lewis, past chairman of public advisory com- mittee to the Environment Conserva- tion Authority. "We would ask members of the authority about this and kept getting negative response. We began to think we were sounding says the University of Lethbridge biologist. "But EGA member Julian Kmisky delved further and found reports Premier Peter Lougheed and the ECA were getting were in fact erroneous." Dr. Warrack subsequently accepted responsibility for a "communications breakdown" which resulted in Premier Lougheed assuring concern- ed members of the public in a letter that no exploration was being allowed. Dr. Lewis' committee established an ad hoc sub-commiitee on coal ex- ploration in the easter slopes to sort out the issue It reported in September that an inter-office breakdown in com- munication "would not explain away the fact that many other reasonable and honourable people did believe that the 'development freeze' was inclusive of coal exploration ac- tivities 'Puzzled, disturbed' The committee found itself "deeply disturbed and puzzled" over the issue It said the department erred when it interpreted the freeze as narrowly as it did. "It matters not whether there a 'sinister motive' behind this policy, or whether it was bungling in good the committee said The Environment Conservation Authority accepted the committee's recommendation that it launch its own investigation. The authority plans to report its fin- dings to the environment department early next year. It took the action un- der a mandate which empowers it to review government environmental policies. "My own concern is that because of all the public questions that have been raised, that the results be made clear- ly and fully says Dr Lewis Who sees report? Dr Warrack says he would be pleased to make the report public "Whatever the report, it is my intent it be made he says But the authority reports to Mr Yurko, who says it is a "premature question" whether the report will be let out. "It's an internal matter It's not a public examination Lands and forests 'led way in protection9 TREES BOW OVER TRAIL NEAR OLDMAN RIVER The Alberta department of lands and forests has led the way in protecting the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies, says the department's deputy minister Bob Steele is disturbed by press reports which paint his department as the villain in the issue of allowing development along the scenic strip. "Hearings by the Environment Conservation Authority were a result of our department's concerns about the eastern he says. "We started the foothills resource allocation study which the ECA used as background for its study." The department is under fire for continuing to grant coal exploration permits during a moratorium on development in the slopes. Mr Steele says, however, that the department imposed rules that would not allow further development. It volunteered not to grant any more timber cutting rights and refused to grant any more leases to organizations planning slope developments. There has been "complete understanding" among senior department staff that develop- ment would be stilled until the Environment would be stilled until the Environment Conser vation Authority's recommendations on the slopes were considered, he says. "Coal exploration was a continuation in our mind of the inventory of resources. There was never any intention that everything be he says. If that had been the intention of the government, Mr. Steele adds, the department would have put a half to all the pulp and paper mills in the region, even shut down the hunting seasons. In August, Mr Steele the department's stand in answer to a query from Walter Trost, chairman of the Environment Conservation Authority: "There was never any understanding by our department nor by my minister that there would be a complete moratorium on the granting of ex- ploration rights in the Eastern Slopes pending receipt of the report of the Environment Conser- vation Authority as a result of your public Mr. Steele said in the memorandum "There is, of course, an essential difference between exploration authorities for any resources and the granting of leases or develop- ment he said Permits top million Senior citizens ask LCC for break on tuition A building permit for the Lethbridge Centre twin cinema and apart- ment building helped boost the value of, construction in the city this year to date to more than million. Figures released this week by city hall's inspection and development department S show 113 building permits worth were issued in November. Besides the Lethbridge Centre. development, permits were issued for worth of residential construc- tion and worth of commercial construction, mostly interior renovations to existing stores, hotels, restaurants and office buildings and additions and renovations to four warehouses. The 11-month total this year is well above last year's record worth of construction in the city Tuition fees for all continu- ing education courses at the Lethbridge Community College should be abolished for senior citizens, a letter to be presented to a meeting of the college board of governors today suggests. In the letter, the Retired Teachers Association of Lethbridge points out that the policy "of remitting fees for. courses to Alberta residents 65 years of age or older appears to be fully im- plemented in Central and Northern Alberta and almost completely non existent in the area south of Calgary." The association unanimous- ly agreed in a Nov. 14 meeting to ask the college to recon- sider its fee structure for senior citizens. The college sponsors con- tinuing education programs in senior citizen homes in the city and Coaldale at no cost to those who participate in them. Even the supplies are provid- ed at no charge. However, for courses offered at the LCC campus, senior citizens are required to pay the same fee as other students. The University of Lethbridge charges senior citizens 50 per cent of the fee for any course whether it be a credit or non credit course. LCC Continuing Education Director Dale Heyland voiced support in an interview for the senior citizens request for an abolition of all tuition fees for the elderly. It would be an "excellent idea" for the college board of governors not only to eliminate fees for senior citizens but also reduce them for all other people too, he suggested A reduction of fees would help expand the continuing education courses to reach even more people, Mr. Heyland pointed out, while in- dicating the major thrust of a college in the future may be to upgrade the level of education of workers and provide human interest courses ;