Chief of Alberta First Nation files lawsuit over coal tailings pond spill

EDMONTON – The chief of an Alberta First Nation is suing three companies over spill from a coal tailings pond that went into waterways that feed the Athabasca River.

Ronald Kruetzer of the Fort McMurray First Nation filed the lawsuit as a class action to include anyone who resided near, used, relied on or prospered from the Plante and Apetowun creeks, Athabasca River and Peace-Athabasca delta.

The Obed coal mine near Hinton had a spill of about 670 million litres of waste water on Oct. 31, 2013.

At the time, Coal Valley Resources Inc. operated the mine as a subsidiary of Sherritt International Corp. (TSX:S).

Both companies were named in the statement of claim, along with Westmoreland Coal Co., which bought Coal Valley from Sherritt in 2014.

In the weeks following the spill, the province advised communities downstream not to draw water from the river and farmers not to let livestock drink from it.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs could not safely hunt, fish or use drinking water due to the toxins contained in the waste water that spilled.

It also claims the defendants should have known the waste water contained materials hazardous to the environment and failed to properly construct, design and inspect the tailing pond.

The plaintiffs are seeking general and punitive damages.

It’s not known if the defendants have filed a statement of defence and the companies could not immediatly be reached for comment.

In October, Coal Valley and Sherritt were charged with six counts under Alberta’s Environmental Protection Act, Public Lands Act and Water Act.

The companies are to appear in Hinton provincial court on the charges on Jan. 20.