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Town eying future of mined lands

The Pioneer Coal mine in Stellarton has a lifespan of about two more years. Once mining ceases, the land will be reclaimed and given to the town.
The Pioneer Coal mine in Stellarton has a lifespan of about two more years. Once mining ceases, the land will be reclaimed and given to the town.

STELLARTON, N.S. – Operations are expected to wrap up at Pioneer Coal by 2019, and the mayor of Stellarton is excited about what they’ll be able to do with the land once it’s reclaimed.

Danny MacGillivray said they’re looking forward to the mining operations ceasing at some point, and having the property turned over to the town. “We’ll be happy to use the land for other purposes when they’re done.”

Danny MacGillivray said they’re looking forward to the mining operations ceasing at some point, and having the property turned over to the town. “We’ll be happy to use the land for other purposes when they’re done.”

The town is forming a planning advisory committee, and part of its mandate will be determining what to do with the site. MacGillivray said members of the public will be asked to serve on the committee “and help us plan for that area.”

“We’re hoping when the transfer happens, we can use it for residential or commercial purposes.”

He said when he was out canvassing for the municipal election in October, the topic of the mine was raised quite a bit. “It was something I heard about. The message I got from them – the residents – was they’re looking forward to doing something with the land, and the sooner the better.”

MacGillivray said the property where the surface mine is located wasn’t usable before Pioneer Coal began mining there. “The good part is, the land was not going to be used for anything else because of subsidence and undermining,” he said.

Through the operations of the surface coal mine, any tunnels made over 200 years of pick-and-shovel mining – both legal and illegal – were removed, allowing for future land development. “We were not sure where they were, some were bootleg mines.”

MacGillivray noted the area where the town’s water tower sits and where the Pioneer Coal Athletics Field is located are both reclaimed mining sites, turned back over to the town after operations finished there.

Donald Chisholm, president of Antigonish’s Nova Construction and its subsidiary Pioneer Coal, said it will take approximately a year to reclaim the land. This involves moving material taken out of the ground back into the pit. “Basically it’s a bit of reverse mining,” he said.

Chisholm said mining will continue for this year, 2018, and possibly a portion of 2019.

“Our limiting factor is the surface area. The coal, where we mine it, does not end there. It continues thousands of feet deeper, but we can only… go so deep from the surface.”

He said at that point, underground mining would have to be considered, which Pioneer Coal isn’t interested in pursuing.

“We’re basically limited by Heritage Drive to the north and Pleasant Street to the east. If those obstacles weren’t there, we could continue.”

 

Proposed blasting

 

In 2014, Pioneer Coal applied to blast at the site to access an 11-foot-thick seam of coal underneath rock about 30 feet thick. The proposal involved using explosives once a week over three years to break through the rock.

But the plan was met with opposition from some residents and advisory council members from the nearby G.R. Saunders Elementary School, who also raised concerns about coal dust in the air.

In response to the application, the Environment Department said an environmental assessment would be required, which involves a more detailed and independent analysis.

Chisholm said Pioneer Coal opted to mine the seam using a different method. “We made a request and put some reports together on how to do it and how we thought it could be done,” he said, adding that blasting takes place regularly in downtown Halifax and Dartmouth Crossing. “We felt it was doable.”

However, he said it was decided that an environmental assessment would have been “onerous and time consuming.”

“With the life of the mine getting a little shorter and the environmental assessment component, we decided not to pursue it.”

Instead, the seam was accessed using a trenching machine, which he describes as a rock saw that cuts the rock.

“It works, but it’s very time consuming and difficult on the equipment,” he said.

 

Stellarton surface mine facts:

Pioneer Coal started mining in the area in 1996.

The land is leased from the Department of Natural Resources.

Pioneer Coal extracts the thermal type of bituminous coal, used mostly for power generation. The other type – metallurgical coal – is used primarily for manufacturing iron and steel.

All coal mined in Stellarton is sold to Nova Scotia Power Inc. and burned at the Trenton Generating Station’s Unit 6.

Once mining ceases at Pioneer Coal, in the absence of domestic sources, NSPI will increase its import of low-sulphur coal from the United States and Central America.

A spokesperson for NSPI said domestic sources are preferred over imported sources when they can be acquired economically and are environmentally acceptable.

Coal mining began in the province hundreds of years ago.

Pioneer Coal is currently the only coal mining operation in Nova Scotia, however the redevelopment of the Donkin Mine in Cape Breton is underway.

 

Sources: NSPI, Coal Association of Canada, Pioneer Coal Ltd.

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