NS: Changing Donkin shipping plans a 'delicate process', says mayor

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The Cape Breton Post

CBRM mayor John Morgan says there’s a lot at stake in making sure Erdene selects the transportation option that improves the area's economics, stabilizes the rail operations and more.

This February 2010 photo shows work at the Donkin exploration project. - Steve Wadden, Cape Breton Post

[SYDNEY, NS] — This week, outgoing Donkin project partner Xstrata submitted plans to transship coal by barge in its 85-page environmental impact statement submitted to the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Project partners, including Dartmouth-based Erdene Resources, are planning the construction, operation and decommissioning of a 25-30 year underground mine at an existing mine on the Donkin peninsula.

Up to 3.6 million tonnes of raw coal is expected to be produced annually, or approximately 9,992 tonnes per day.

A coal-washing facility will be constructed to prepare Donkin coking coal for suitable markets. It may also supply thermal coal to power plants to generate electricity.

In order to transport the coal to its buyers, Donkin partners plan to load coal onto barges and using tugs move it to a transshipment site in Mira Bay. According to a project overview, the trucking of coal to domestic customers and the port of Sydney may occur if marine transportation proves impractical at any time.

“Before the project goes in full operation, it’s really important that rail be the choice in terms of stabilizing rail operations and also assisting in terms of stabilizing the port as well,” said John Morgan, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Morgan said by using rail as the primary mode of transportation, economic opportunities would open up for the port of Sydney.

The option to use rail would also satisfy many concerned about the project’s impacts on coastal communities and the area’s rich fishing grounds.

“One of the things people are reluctant to do at this stage, is nobody wants to take action that interferes with the development itself,” said Morgan. “We want to both allow the substantive development to unfold and encourage the substantive development to unfold and then when we are confident of that unfolding we want to tweak. We want to intervene and tweak the transportation at the end.

“It’s a delicate process because there’s a lot at stake in making sure they select the transportation option that improves our economics but at the same time stabilizes the rail operations and provides the maximum benefit to the community.”

Morgan said all three levels of government have a role in pushing forward the use of the railway before the project is complete.

Several years ago, Xstrata had considered shipping coal by rail. However, several residents living near the rail line voiced opposition to those plans.

In February, project manager Val Istomin said barging was the preferred choice as it cut transportation costs by 30 per cent.

Donkin mine partners expect the environmental assessment to be complete in the new year. They say the mine, if opened, could employ up 300 people and is expected to begin producing coal by mid- to late-2014.

Organizations: Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.Project, Erdene Resources

Geographic location: SYDNEY, Cape Breton, Mira Bay

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