A Coal Port in the Storm: Tsunami Risks for Raven Mine Storage Plan


What does Port Alberni have in common with Fukushima, Japan – besides a love for fish? Two things, potentially.

First, according to experts from Emergency Management BC, Port Alberni is located in the heart of the most dangerous Tsunami zone in the country, making it prone to a catastrophe like the one we just witnessed across the Pacific. Second, if Compliance Energy gets its way, the town’s harbour will host a dirty energy facility right in the path of the big wave.

Compliance is the proponent for the Raven Underground Coal Mine, near Fanny Bay, on the opposite side of Vancouver Island. The company wishes to truck its coal from there to Port Alberni – passing through Cathedral Grove along the way – to a coal storage facility in the town’s port, before being loaded onto ships carrying the black gunk to China. This week, the first round of environmental assessment public meetings is taking place on the proposed mine and coal port. The first of these, last night in Courtenay, saw over 500 people turn out to deliver a resounding message to representatives of the Canadian and BC Environmental Assessment Offices, opposing the plan.

Unlike the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima, fatally damaged by the recent earthquake and Tsunami, Port Alberni would be home to an 80,000 tonne coal storage facility – with catastrophic economic, ecological and health consequences for the community and region the next time the big one hits.

In 1964, a massive Tsunami unleashed by an earthquake in Alaska swept over the town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, causing $10 million dollars of damage (in 1964 dollars). Historical records show it is not a question of “if” but “when” the next one will come. There will be more significant earthquakes along the Cascadia Subduction Zone and other tectonic hotspots in the Pacific Ocean – and when they occur, there is the distinct possibility of another Tsunami ploughing its way up Alberni Inlet and causing all manner of devastation.

If there is an 80,000 tonne coal container there, the consequences will be unimaginable. Alberni Inlet is home to, among other ecological treasures, one of Canada’s most prominent salmon rivers, the Somass, which has helped the town lay claim over the years to “Salmon Capital of the World” (a bone of contention with my home town of Campbell River, which used to make the same boast).

According to Coal-Free Alberni president Satcey Gaiga, “The coal would potentially be dispersed throughout 600 hectares based on how far the water would reach in our valley, according to our Provincial Emergency Program information…I can’t believe the Environmental Assessment Offices provincially and federally are even considering these preposterous plans, allowing [Compliance Energy] to continue to go through the environmental assessment process to do this: HOW DO YOU MITIGATE A TSUNAMI?”

Indeed, British Columbians must ask their provincial and federal bureaucrats and politicians, “Have we learned nothing from Fukushima and the nuclear waste continues pouring into our Pacific Ocean?”

The environmental assessment hearings resume this Thursday in Port Alberni for what promises to be a fiery round 2. Click here for a complete schedule.

The CEA Agency and the EAO accept public comments submitted by any of the following means:

  • By Email: raven@ceaa-acee.gc.ca
  • By Fax: 250-356-6448
  • By Mail:

Rachel Shaw, Project Assessment Manager
Environmental Assessment Office
PO Box 9426 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9V1


Andrew Rollo, Project Manager
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
320 – 757 West Hastings Street
Vancouver BC V6C 1A1

Click here electronic copy of the draft AIR/EIS Guidelines document and information regarding the environmental assessment process.


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

11 thoughts on “A Coal Port in the Storm: Tsunami Risks for Raven Mine Storage Plan

  1. I agree trailblazer! Some rants are out in left field. I grew up in port alberni, I miss every tree, fish and mountain since leaving. This coal plant is wrong, does anybody remember the old dirty pulp mill before scrubbers??????? The smell??? The filth and dust????? 80000 tons of coal will be a thousand times worse!

  2. I was born and raised in Port Alberni, now I live in Fukushima, this story is very close to home…. every person I have talked to here in Japan is worried sick about the health and welfare of their families. The reactors used to fuel the ever-growing Tokyo electric neon skyline did benefit a lot of people. But, the people it has now burdened do not live in Tokyo. They are farmers, fisherman, and families that have been put out of work, and housing. Most of this area destroyed by the earthquake/tsunami can and is being rebuilt. The area affected by the radiation is dead-inhabitable land and will continue to be so for hundreds of years. PEOPLE WAKE UP AND STOP RUINING THIS PLANET! The oil spill in the gulf of Mexico and the millions of gallons of contaminated water dumped into the ocean in the last two years proves our negligence for the greater good and the attraction to money. When everything is dead maybe then you will see you can’t eat money. Leave the carbon fuel in the ground and put your energy towards finding a safe, clean,reliable, renewable energy resource. please excuse my rant

  3. Here’s an idea,lets trade our coal, clean air, fresh water, fish habitat, and heath and safety for money!!!!yeah we can all be rich!, oh, what was that? what did you say? We LOSE all those things so that a few people get rich and we get nothing in return….. doesn’t sound that good to me. We already did that with our lumber industry. The Alberni inlet is BLACK the salmon have no streams to return to, the salmon capitol of the world pfffft what ever. Lets stop repeating these mistakes and if this truly is a democracy who would choose to vote to lose everything for the monetary gains of a few people.

  4. We need to nuture that and one way is to not pollute this beautiful town of ours and our only route into here.The huge trucks that would be travelling the one and only rd we have into Port Alberni, would be making it even more of a dangerous road to travel.
    I have lost many friends from accidents on the highway leading from our town to down island, i believe it is a perposterous idea to add to this in such a monumental way!!!
    It is bad enough without the nonstop traffic from this proposed coal project for our City. The roads need a lot of work already. There would be very heavy trucks that will break down the road even more so, making it even more of a danger to the people that are travelling to and from our town and the towns past us.
    Not to mention the ongoing cost of keeping them up.

    This is a no brainer….NO COAL PROJECT FOR PORT ALBERNI!!!

  5. #1 reason why i feel this is A BAD PROPOSED PROJECT-

    Our town is trying to re-invent itself. We used to be a major forest industry town, but there have been closing of mills and loss of thousands of jobs over the last several years.
    We are trying to focus now on what else we have to offer. One thing we do still have to offer is the beauty of this place, the abundance of fresh water and ocean at our doorstep that supplies our town with so many species of fish.
    So much so that we have been named the Ultimate Fishing Town
    of Canada 2010, and we have always been known as The Fishing
    Capital of the World.
    We are beginning to get noticed for what we do have to offer here and people are coming to experience it. Why wreck that now? It is too important to this town not to!!

  6. I feel that this article was very well written!
    Having lived through the devastation of the last tsunami here in Port Alberni in 1964, i feel that if there were a huge coal storage here in our waters, the tsunami could destroy it and disperse the coal into the inlet and into the flood zone areas.
    What a mess to clean up environmentally and other after that!! I am very against this proposed coal storage and loading facility here in our harbour/town.
    There are many valid reasons why this filthy coal project should not be brought here.
    I feel this project would be taking away from the livelihood of the people in our town, and is that not who we should be considering…. who should be making money off this town but the very people who reside in it?

  7. Trailblazer, give me a break! Where in this piece did I suggest for a moment that the risk of a Tsunami is the “first poblem (sic)” with this Raven proposal? This is no less than the sixth story we’ve published on this subject in the past 4 months and it certainly won’t be the last. The Tsaunami angle is one among many significant concerns I have with this project and it merits some discussion. You’ll get no disagreement with me re: your concerns of coal dust contamination.

  8. Rick, where to begin with your comments?…First of all, this is an opinion editorial – made eminently clear by its tone. An issue does not have integrity – only people do, so it is impossible for my article or any other to “damage the integrity of the very issue [I am] writing about.” This piece focuses on one among many very real concerns with the Raven proposal – that being the proposed location of this storage facility happens to be in one of the highest risk places on the coast for Tsunamis. These are facts that should give anyone considering the proposal pause. What I am saying is simple and reasonable – that a disatrous Tsunami could very easily wash 80,000 tonnes of toxic coal into Alberni Inlet and surrounding river estuaries. What is child like about that observation? Yours is precisely the kind of thinking that led to poor placement of a nuclear facility next to the Pacific ocean – and we are now paying the price for it. Better to ask these questions now than later.

  9. In my opinion, you really do an issue harm in the way you have written this story. Your bias against the proposed coal storage and ship loading facility comes through so clear as to damage the integrity of the very issue you are trying to write about; that being the possible tsunami damage.

    Your writing is child like. The sentance “Unlike the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima, fatally damaged by the recent earthquake and Tsunami, Port Alberni would be home to an 80,000 tonne coal storage facility – with catastrophic economic, ecological and health consequences for the community and region the next time the big one hits.”, is an attempt to somehow link a coal facility to catastrophic, economic, ecological and health consequences due the next big one, whatever that may be. What are to trying to say?
    That a coal pile would cause damage when a tidal wave or earthquak hits. Are you trying to suggest that the coal pile and ship loading will somehow make the damage from a catastrophic tidal wave worse. Or that damage will occur in Port Alberni as a result of the tidal wave because of the coal pile.

    A very poorly written story in my view.

  10. I am not in agreement with the Raven project.
    That said I am not in agreement with the off the wall comments of this article!
    Tsunami! the first poblem? give us a break.
    Coal dust desroying a “SUSTAINABLE” fishing resouce is THE main problem.
    Ever heard of acid rain?

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