Recent History – 2004-2006
By Brad Lyon, 8 July 2005
The Minister of State for Mining in B.C. believes that Pine Valley Mining has every opportunity to become as successful as the coal operations in the East Kootenays. Bill Bennett was on hand on Thursday afternoon for the official opening of Pine Valley’s Willow Creek Mine near Chetwynd. And the minister had a positive view for the future of the first new metallurgical mine to be established in Canada in more than 20 years.
“Pine Valley is smaller than any of the five mines in my riding,” said Bennett, who was participating in his first opening since being named mines minister. “But we’ve been coal mining in the East Kootenays for 100 years. This mine has the potential to be just like those big mines in the southeast part of the province. The coal is here, the quality of the coal is here. As long as the market is here for the coal, there’s no reason why the coal industry can’t developup here just exactly the way it has in the southeast.”
Willow Creek opened in July 2004, and shipped its first coal to customers in September, shipping approximately 290,000 tonnes of coal during the year ended March 31, 2005. The mine is capable of producing 2.2 million tonnes of coal a year, and the company expects to achieve a monthly production rate of approximately 180,000 tonnes when a coal preparation plant and related projects are completed and fully commissioned. The coal preparation plant is presently under construction and is scheduled for completion in the autumn of 2005. As well, the company has filed a permit amendment application with the provincial government requesting an increase from the currently permitted production level of 0.9 million tonnes per year to 2.2 million tonnes per year.
“From what I can see here, with Pine Valley Mining and the other company involved here, Falls Mountain Coal, they seem to have a really good handle on everything,” Bennett said. “They’re doing an excellent job in the pit area, it’s very clean, very orderly. They’ve got good looking equipment and the right level of concern about safety. I would say they can handle the expansion to (2.2) milliontonnes, and obviously what they want to do is maximize the opportunity they have.”
The key, according to Bennett, is becoming financially stable in the first three to five years of operation.
“It’s a small mine in terms of world coal mines, but it’s an important start. If mines like Willow Creek can pay down some of their debt and get stabilized, they’re going to be able to withstand the inevitable commodity price changes that will come,” Bennett said.
And Willow Creek does have an advantage over mines in the Kootenays, Bennett believes.
“There’s not as much water here for the mines to deal with in the ground, that is one of the first things I noticed,” Bennett said. “So I think that’s going to make their environmental management a little easier.”
Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom was also in attendance, and said that the Willow Creek mine is a boon for the entire area.
“The major beneficiary as a community definitely is Chetwynd,” Lekstrom said. “But when one area does good it benefits us all. When Tumbler Ridge was in its heyday with Quintette and Bullmoose, Dawson Creek had huge benefits as did Chetwynd. We see this spread out across the whole northeast.”
As part of Thursday’s ceremony, company officials and politicians were joined by representatives from three Japanese steelmakers, as well as representatives from the Moberly Lake, Saulteau and McLeod Lake First Nations.