Donkin coal mine proponents push forward

The company planning to open the Donkin mine in Cape Breton has filed documents for federal and provincial environmental assessments.

The company planning to open the Donkin mine in Cape Breton has filed documents for federal and provincial environmental assessments.

Once those reviews are complete, Xstrata Coal Donkin Management Ltd. will decide if Cape Breton will get its first underground mine in more than a decade.

Val Istomin, project manager, said a decision is a couple of years away.

"Of course we'd like to expedite that as fast as we can," he said, "but bureaucracy being what it is and with all the different government agencies involved, it's going to be about two years."

The Donkin tunnels were dug in the 1980s by Devco, a former federal Crown corporation. The $100-million project was abandoned before the mine opened because of falling coal prices. The tunnels were then flooded.

Xstrata first looked at Donkin in 2006. The initial plan was to mine coal for international markets within three years, creating 300 direct jobs and supporting hundreds more.

The project went through a provincial environmental assessment a couple of years ago. But once Xstrata changed the type of coal it wanted to produce and increased the amount, the project was required to undergo more scrutiny at the federal level.

Peter Akerley, president of Erdene Resources, Xstrata Inc.'s partner in this venture, said delays are common.

"When you look at world-class projects like I believe this is, the time it takes from a company starting to through to production, it often takes this long," Akerley said.

Xstrata announced its latest plan in February 2010. Company officials told local residents that the project was moving forward.

This week, Istomin said he's waiting to see the fine print of the environmental reviews.

"When you receive approval for an environmental assessment, there are a string of conditions attached and we need to understand what those conditions are before we move forward to commit to any funding to commence the project," he said.

Istomin and Akerley say the process may be long, but they believe the world demand for coal will remain strong for years.