SPARWOOD, British Columbia — Scientists, tribal officials, regulators and environmentalists concerned about contamination from Canadian coal mines whose runoff flows into the United States usually focus on the Kootenai River and border-straddling Lake Koocanusa.
But on Tuesday they took to the sky, observing from 10,000 feet the open-pit, mountaintop-removal coal mines operated by Teck Resources Limited throughout British Columbia’s Elk River Valley near Sparwood, northeast of Fernie. On two consecutive flights, representatives from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the International Joint Commission, Flathead Biological Station and Montana Wildlife Federation, joined by news organizations, packed into a six-seat Cessna 210 Centurion operated by EcoFlight, a conservation nonprofit that flies policymakers over threatened landscapes.
The flights originated and landed in Kalispell, but most of the nearly two hours airborne per flight was spent making a large counterclockwise loop around the mines in Canada, which constitute some of the nation’s largest open-pit mining operations.
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Teck currently owns five large mines in the area, four of which are active. They produce about 27 million metric tons of high-grade metallurgical coal annually. Unlike thermal coal used for heating and