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Cape Breton’s Donkin coal mine reopens after two-year closure

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The Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton is operating again for the first time in more than two years.

The mine reopened Tuesday. It was closed in March 2020 amid slumping coal prices and repeated government stop-work orders following roof falls.

The Nova Scotia government says safety inspectors were onsite and the mine will be inspected regularly, on both announced and unannounced visits.

A stop-work order is still in place in areas of the mine where rock falls took place.

"All Nova Scotians deserve to return home to their families at the end of the work day," said Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration Jill Balser in a press release. "Our priority is to make sure workplaces have the right safety plans in place, especially those with a higher level of risk."

The Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration says it has also completed a “thorough review” of mine owner Kameron Coal Management Limited’s operational safety plans.

Kameron Coal is required to submit monthly reports on ventilation, main fan and emergency power supply, and reports for stone dust sampling.

Since Feb. 2017, the department says it has completed 102 inspections, which resulted in 152 warnings, 119 compliance orders and 37 administrative penalties issued at the mine.

When word spread in June about the mine’s potential reopening, Donkin residents voiced their concerns about safety and damage to the environment. The province says it received seven safety plans at that time that were required before work could begin again.

When the mine was idled, complaints also came in from the rural area of eastern Cape Breton about noise pollution.

Some people are now celebrating mine's reopening and the boost to the local economy.

"When you're talking about 150 employees in an economically depressed area with high unemployment rate and high child poverty, this spells good news," says Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillor James Edwards.

But not everyone is happy to see the mine back in business.

"The 2030 deadline has loop holes as the Donkin Mine is proving," says Tynette Deveaux with Beyond Coal Atlantic.

The federal government announced in 2018 that Canadian utilities had to shut down coal-fired plants by 2030.

Deveaux is questioning the province's decision.

"It will end up costing the people of Nova Scotia more to pay for carbon taxes and clean up from this mine," she says. 

Kameron Coal has also been told to update its greenhouse gas management plan to mitigate emissions. The province says it will monitor the mine's greenhouse gas emissions and expects Donkin to meet legislated emissions targets.

More than 100 people lost their jobs when the Donkin mine closed. There’s no word on how many people are currently working at the site. A handful of employees were working onsite to keeping the ventilation system running while it was idled.

The mine's current industrial approval expires on Dec. 4 and the company applied for renewal on Sept. 6. The province says it makes a decision within 60 days of a completed application.

The Donkin coal mine is the only operating subsea coal mine in the world and the only operating underground coal mine in Nova Scotia. 

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