Nova Scotia

Donkin mine remains closed despite provincial OK to restart digging coal

A request for regulatory concessions may be at the heart of a lengthy shutdown at the underground coal mine in Donkin, N.S.

Last July, Nova Scotia’s Labour Department issued a stop-work order after the access tunnel roof collapsed twice in one week.

Mine owner Kameron Coal got the OK to begin digging coal again 2½ months ago, but no one from the company is saying publicly why the mine remains idled.

James Edwards, a member of the mine’s community liaison committee, said the company is looking for assurances it will not face a lengthy shutdown if the province orders another work stoppage.

“It’s understandable,” he said. “Let’s face it. I mean how can you operate a business if there’s any kind of situation at all that the government comes in and closes down for literally months?”

He said the community is getting worried about the loss of good paying jobs in an economically depressed region.

CBRM Deputy Mayor James Edwards, a member of the mine’s community liaison committee, says he wrote to the premier nearly two weeks ago, but has not received a reply. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Edwards, the deputy mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said he wrote Premier Tim Houston nearly two weeks ago asking for an investigation into the lengthy stoppage, but had not received a reply as of Wednesday.

“We know that the Kameron Coal people are looking for revisions to the regulatory process to ensure that if there is ever any other situations where the mine is halted for whatever reason — of course depending on the severity of the shutdown — that they won’t be closed for another year,” Edwards said.

“People are just waiting and seeing what’s going to happen and who’s going to blink first.”

The premier met with officials from Kameron Coal in December and at that time said there was no plan to ease the regulatory process.

After a cabinet meeting Thursday, Houston said the company has not approached him or his office recently with a request for a guarantee on future stop-work orders.

“They have the clearance,” the premier said. “They can resume operations. If they wish to do so, then the company should speak directly to their reopening plan and I hope they do.”

A pair of seagulls fly past a large grey building in the distance with a red and white Canadian flag and a green, yellow and white Cape Breton flag on it.
Labour Minister Jill Balser would not say if the department is considering beefing up its staff to speed up the regulatory process for the owner of the Donkin coal mine. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

No one from Kameron Coal returned a CBC News request for comment.

Labour Minister Jill Balser also said the next move is up to the mining company.

She would not say if the department is considering beefing up its staff to eliminate the use of third-party safety consultants. Those connected to the mine have said that would speed up the safety review process.

“We do have mine experts on site and we can’t disregard the complexity behind what had taken place in Donkin mine,” Balser said.

“And when we think back to the two roof falls that caused us to pause and try to determine and figure out exactly what happened, safety has always been the top priority for our department.”

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