UNION BAY, B.C- Coal hills south of the Comox Valley could be covered up in the near future.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development, planning is underway to cover the Union Bay coal hills, with the project undertaken by West Fraser Mills Ltd.

The project was first described by the Comox Valley Record, drawing on information from the province that had been released in response to questions from the publication. A copy of that same information and the questions from the Record to the government has been provided to 98.9 The Goat.

The coal hills in Union Bay are the remnants of the coal industry footprint in the area. The site has been a focus of provincial concern in the past, with acid rock drainage and metals leaking from the area into the surrounding environment.

According to the province, a portion of the coal pile owned by Kensington Island Properties was acquired in the past. The acquisition was around 5.3 hectares of land, with the total pile taking up 13 hectares of land.

West Fraser Mills leases a section of the pile, after amalgamating with Weldwood of Canada Limited in 2005. Weldwood had been leasing their section since 1965.

Now, West Fraser is looking at the installation of an “engineered cover” over the site, with design and installation undertaken at the company’s own cost.

“The Province is not contributing to any of the design or installation costs,” read the statement supplied by the province.

“The engineered cover will impede water access to the coal pile, reducing acid rock drainage and the release of metals to the environment. In the event the engineered cap doesn’t sufficiently reduce the level of metals being discharged, water treatment of the discharge may be required.”

After the cover is installed, West Fraser would hand over it’s lease to the province, with the entire coal pile becoming vacant and undeveloped Crown land. Development on the site would not be allowed, and no trees could be grown.

The estimated timeframe for the project was around 18-24 months, according to the province, with all costs incurred by West Fraser. As for costs to taxpayers for remediation, the province only indicated it would be responsible for maintenance and monitoring after the cover is installed.

“While the cost to the Province will not be known until after the detailed design plan is completed, the costs are not expected to be material on an annual basis,” read the statement.

“Depending on monitoring results, a water treatment plant may need to be installed.”