A proposed coal project near Tumbler Ridge is moving into the next stage of development, with an open house scheduled in Chetwynd later this month along with a 30-day window for public comments.
The Sukunka mine project would produce metallurgical, or steel-making, coal at a site about 40 kilometres west of Tumbler Ridge in an area already bustling with coal production and exploration.
Sukunka is also one of three B.C. projects recently approved for substitution, a process allowing projects to go through a single provincial environmental assessment rather than dual provincial and federal reviews.
Industry groups have pushed for such streamlining for years, citing the costs and time required to go through parallel processes.
Environmental groups have expressed concerns that a streamlined process would result in less stringent reviews – though federal and provincial governments have said that would not happen.
When federal Environment Minister Peter Kent approved Sukunka and another coal project, Carbon Creek, for substitution in April, he said "projects will only be allowed to proceed if they meet Canada's rigorous environmental protection laws."
Under the revamped system, outlined in a March memorandum of understanding (MOU) between B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the province will conduct the review for specific projects – put forward by the provincial government – with help from federal departments.
At the end of the process, provincial and federal ministers will each make separate decisions on the project's environmental effects and whether there has been adequate aboriginal consultation. The MOU is not legally binding and could result in one government disagreeing with the other's assessment.
In an e-mailed statement, GlencoreXstrata, which owns the Sukunka project, said the MOU provides "greater certainty" regarding the regulatory framework.
The West Moberly First Nation worries the provincial review process will not address cumulative effects of multiple projects in one area over time, Chief Roland Willson said on Wednesday.
"It's not about that [Sukunka] project itself, but it's about the whole area," Mr. Willson said, adding the area is home to existing mines, logging operations and a proposed wind operation.
In 2010, the Ottawa rejected the proposed Prosperity copper-gold mine, about 125 km southwest of Williams Lake, after B.C. approved the project. Vancouver-based Taseko has since submitted a redesigned proposal that would retain Fish Lake, which would have been drained and filled with waste rock in the previous plan.