A group of farmers and townspeople in the Langham area is campaigning to stop a proposed metal refinery.

Ken Crush, who chairs the Fortune Minerals Issues Group, said the nearly 100 jobs the project may create are not worth the potential threat to drinking water.

"If that fresh water is put at risk then we're not comfortable having them here," he said.

The company, Fortune Minerals, wants to build its $200 million metal processing plant on farmland just outside of town, and plans to operate for 20 years. The company will ship metal concentrate from the Northwest Territories for further processing at its Langham plant.

The company says it will generate 158,000 tonnes of toxic waste annually, to be stored permanently in pits beside the plant. Contaminated water will be injected more than 800 metres underground, far below the area's source of drinking water, it said.

Berry producer worried

The plan unnerves Rodney Parenteau, who operates a commercial berry orchard across the road from the proposed site. He relies on groundwater to irrigate his crops, which he turns into jams and beverages. 

"It's kind of hard to accept the fact that you're going to live by a chemical dump, he said. "How safe is that going to be?"

'I've been against it from day one.' - Rodney Parenteau, Parenteau Gourmet Foods

The refinery will sit right on top of the area's prime source of drinking water, an underground sand and water formation called the Dalmeny aquifer. The town of Langham, and farms surrounding it and Dalmeny, draw their water from that aquifer.

Parenteau fears poisons such as cyanide and arsenic may leak into the groundwater, or become airborne, landing on his berry shrubs with the dust.

"I've been against it from day one," he said. "If it goes as is, I probably won't be around in four years time because food does not mix with toxic chemicals."

He added he's not against the company itself, "but build a place off the water source that can affect so many people, thousands of people, that can damage a town, that could damage the whole area's water source."

Company plan passes review

Fortune Minerals has submitted a lengthy, detailed Environmental Impact Statement to the Ministry of Environment. The document contains the company's plan for keeping contaminants out of the air and groundwater. It has passed a review by departmental staff.

'The department of environment seems to have accepted this very easily.' - Ken Crush, chair of the Fortune Minerals Issues Group

"We're very confident in our design," said Rick Schryer, Fortune Minerals' director of environmental and regulatory affairs. "There's never been a storage facility like this in Saskatchewan, this detailed, this well built."

But neither Crush nor Parenteau are reassured.

Ken Crush called the Environment Ministry's review "very soft"."They're all educated people, but you know educated people make mistakes" Parenteau said.

"The department of environment seems to have accepted this very easily," Crush said. "In 13 pages they said it's okay."

What if it leaks?

Crush noted that while there will be measures to detect leaks, it's unclear what will be done about them.

"It's a huge body of water, and a lot of people are drawing water from it," he said. "And once that's contaminated how do you fix it? Because you can't pump it out and refill it."

However, Fortune Minerals' Rick Schryer said any leak will move very slowly and there will be plenty of time to fix the problem.

"Let's say it's a catastrophic event, we would just have to take out the process residue and rebuild the whole thing and then put it back in," he said.

Injection wells will automatically shut down if there is a leak, he said.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The Ministry of Environment is accepting written comment from the public until December 6. 

Crush is leading a letter-writing campaign, asking the minister not to grant environmental approval. A decision is expected sometime after the deadline, possibly just a couple of weeks.

If environmental approval is granted, Fortune Minerals must then ask the RM of Corman Park to rezone the land. 

Crush promises to take the fight to the municipal council chamber, while Schryer will be out in the community answering the concerns that are raised.