Concerned citizens’ meeting on blasting proposal draws crowd

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STELLARTON – There are at least 100 Stellarton citizens concerned with Pioneer Coal’s proposal to use blasting, as demonstrated by a highly attended meeting at the Museum of Industry Tuesday night. 

The mining company is looking to amend their methods of extraction, allowing them to blast explosives to get to a seam of coal under 30 feet of rock.

Many citizens expressed concerns about blasting and mining in general.

“Quite frankly, I’ve had enough of strip mining,” Ron Marks said to roaring applause. “We can’t continue to let this go on. This is affecting our property values. It’s affecting our lives. It’s affecting our children’s lives and it’s time we do something about it.”

Jamie MacGillivray was one of the organizers of the meeting, and has a number of concerns with the proposed amendment, including the mine’s proximity to G.R. Saunders Elementary.

“Underneath the town of Stellarton, there’s all kinds of mine shafts. So what would the explosion do to them? And if they did collapse, what would that cause, if anything on the surface?” MacGillivray asked at the meeting to showcase some of the information he’s seeking.

Pictou West MLA and Progressive Conservative critic for environment, Karla MacFarlane, was at the meeting and promised to bring concerns to Minister of Environment Randy Delorey.

Although many residents from Stellarton were present at the meeting, some voices were missing.

Employees and representatives from Pioneer Coal weren’t welcome.

Donald Chisholm, president of Nova Construction, the parent company of Pioneer Coal, explained in an interview with The News on Tuesday that when they first started strip mining in Stellarton in 1996, they didn’t think they’d need to use any blasting.

As they mined in an easterly direction though, he said they came upon a very hard band of mud stone. Over the last six or seven years since then, they’ve tried to find ways to work around it. They bought a machine with a rock saw, which basically looks like a giant power saw to cut through the hard rock to the coal. But doing that has slowed progress, spewed large amounts of dust from the saw, increased operating costs and created a backup in places to put the waste material.

“It’s been getting to a point that we’re falling a little bit behind in our mining operation,” Chisholm said.

Nova Construction has used blasting for the last five decades in numerous situations including at most strip mine projects they’ve done. He said they’ve set off blasts as close as 30 metres to homes in one location without any problems and believes it would work well in Stellarton with very minimal disruption. Conditions would be carefully set by Environment Canada with third party testing done to verify that guidelines were followed.

The rock they plan to blast through is approximately 30 feet thick. Under that there is a seam of coal about 11 feet thick. Pioneer Coal is proposing to blast explosives once a week over three years to break through the rock. He said the 30-foot band is at the bottom of the pits, which are as deep as 270 feet in places, so it’s a relatively small percentage of the mining that the blasting would be used for.

Chisholm said they hope to get from the community what would be the most convenient time to do that blasting.

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

Organizations: Pictou West MLA, Environment Canada

Geographic location: Stellarton

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