Nova Scotia

Coal change upsets Devco pensioners

People with Devco "coal cards" say they won't be able to burn the coal they're being offered this winter.

Nova Scotians with Devco "coal cards" say they won't be able to burn the coal they're being offered this winter.

Devco employees, retirees and their widows were guaranteed coal at a reduced rate under collective agreements signed several years ago.

But pea coal won't be available anymore, even though many people need it for their stokers.

Beatrice Prince and her 76-year-old mother, the widow of a miner, got a letter last week informing them of the change.

"I don't know what we're going to do. We have no other source of heat in our home," Prince told CBC News.

Stokers take pea coal, which is coal that has been screened and broken down into smaller pieces.

Prince fills their coal stoker every morning before she heads off to work. It automatically feeds the furnace throughout the day, functioning a lot like a wood pellet stove.

"It works excellent for me," Prince said. "My mother doesn't have to go up and down the stairs of the basement."

Ned Kelly buys pea coal at $7 a tonne. He doesn't want the new coal on offer.

"I know good coal from bad coal, and this is 90 per cent muck," Kelly said.

"You can't use it in a stoker, for a start. And also I got no grates to put in the furnace. You have to take the stoker out and put grates in in order to try to use it. But the coal is a poor quality of coal. You won't heat your house with it."

About 450 people are covered by the "coal card" deal, and about 200 of them use stokers, says Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger, whose district includes Glace Bay and Dominion.

Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation administers the coal program. Spokesman Bob MacDonald says the supplier had to switch to a coal of lower quality from mainland Nova Scotia.

He also says it would be too expensive to bring in pea coal from the U.S. or South America.

But the miners' union says a deal is a deal.

"This is a negotiated benefit for retirees that they negotiated many years ago, and they should have considered the cost if something were to happen down the road when they negotiated it," said Bob Burchill, president of the local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America.

The collective agreements don't specifically mention pea coal. Nevertheless, Burchill says the union will consider court action if ECBC doesn't find another source for it.