People around Earl Grey, Sask., discuss proposed potash mine

People from around Earl Grey, Sask., took part a public meeting Thursday to discuss a proposed Chinese-owned potash mine in the area.

Public meeting held in Earl Grey

A public meeting in Earl Grey, Sask., was held to discuss a proposed potash mine project for the area. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)

People from around Earl Grey, Sask., took part in a public meeting Thursday to discuss a proposed Chinese-owned potash mine in the area.

People at the community hall in Earl Grey, Sask., line up to pose questions during a public meeting to discuss a proposed potash mine in the area. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)

Yancoal Canada, which operates coal mines in China and Australia, is proposing a potash mine with an annual output of 2.8 million tonnes near the communities of Earl Grey, Southey and Strasbourg.

Prior to the meeting, local resident Cathi Beckel said she has concerns about the project, noting there are too many risks — including water security issues and a boom and bust job situation — with too few benefits.

"I'm concerned about our environment. I'm concerned about our farmers. I'm concerned about our communities," Beckel said. "These big industries come in and they really change communities."

Representatives from Yancoal, and provincial officials from the ministries of the economy and the environment were at the meeting to make presentations on the proposal. There was also a question and answer session.

The proposed site for the potash mine is just north of Earl Grey, Sask. (Google Maps/CBC)

The project plans to use a solution mining technique where water is poured into wells to bring potash up to the surface instead of conventional digging and extraction of the mineral from underground mine shafts.

Yancoal has a license to use water from the Buffalo Pound reservoir for the proposed operation and is also set to pay a water rights fee to Saskatchewan's Water Security Agency.

Yancoal spokesperson Asad Naqvi said the company will need a maximum of between 11 and 12 million cubic metres of water for the mine annually, but noted the amount will reduce substantially after operations are stable.

"I don't know the exact number but it would be quite a lot," Naqvi said. "Initially it would be high but then you start recycling the water and the amount goes down."

Beckel said water usage is a big concern and described the proposed operation as needing an "incredible amount" of water.

Carol Nixon, another local resident, had a similar view and said water should not be compromised for a foreign-owned business.

"Freshwater is our lifeblood. Without it our communities won't exist," Nixon said prior to the meeting. "We're upset."

Naqvi said the amount of water Yancoal will use is a sustainable amount, based upon an environmental impact study.

"That would not affect the human use or even the farming use," he said.

Resident refuses sale of land to company

At least one local land owner has taken a firm stance on selling land to the project developers until he has more information.

Yancoal has tried to buy farmer Rick Stettner's land, but he told the company he's not interested.

"When they asked about it, it was a low-ball offer and you have seven days to decide," Stettner said prior to Thursday's meeting. "Without any answers or information on what they were doing with it, we just let [the offer] expire."

Local farmer Rick Stettner is opposing the lack of information about the proposed potash mine near his community of Earl Grey, Sask., on July 23, 2015. (CBC)

Stettner said he doesn't know the company's intentions with the land or whether he'd be able to lease it from the company after the purchase – which he called a big concern for someone looking to grow a farm.

"As a young father — which many of us in the area are — with no information especially, selling land doesn't really fit into the business plan of a farmer trying to expand," he said.

Company says mine will bring benefits to community

Naqvi said he's confident Yancoal will be able to handle the community's environmental concerns and that the mine will be positive for the community.

During the construction period Yancoal expects to hire 2,000 people. It will continue to employ 350 people after construction is complete.

To handle an increase in road traffic, Yancoal will also pay for infrastructure upgrades for such things as paving Highway 731 (which is currently gravel) from Highway 6 to the mine site. 

Beckel claimed the proposed project has been going through the development process quickly and that many residents are not fully aware of all the possible impacts of the mine.

"This has kind of been a fast process," she said. "I was not aware of the time frame."

Naqvi says the mine could start construction as early as mid- 2016 and would be completed and ready for operation by 2020. The projected life of the mine is 65 years, but can be extended to 100 years.

Yancoal is holding two other public meetings in the nearby communities of Southey and Strasbourg, on July 29 and 30.


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