Environmental nod for Yancoal potash proposal disappoints area residents

People who live near the site of Yancoal's proposed potash mine are not happy the government has conditionally approved an environmental assessment of the project.

Province granted conditional environmental approval to the proposed mine on Tuesday

Residents of the area surrounding the proposed Yancoal mine gathered Tuesday afternoon in Earl Grey to voice their opposition to the project. (CBC News )

Residents of the RM of Longlaketon are disappointed and upset about the government's decision on Tuesday to conditionally approve an environmental assessment of the Yancoal potash mine.

A group of community members gathered on Tuesday afternoon in the village of Earl Grey to express their concerns. They said the mine would negatively affect the environment, health, safety and the future of their community.

Thera Nordal's home and business is located on the land where the proposed mine is supposed to be built.

She said Environment Minister Herb Cox and Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd had met with her community and promised to alert residents if the mine was moving forward.

But Nordal said the warning never came. Instead, she said her community found out about the approval the same way as the rest of the province when it was announced on Tuesday.

Thera Nordal says her community will continue to protest against the building of the Yancoal potash mine. (CBC News)

She said she was disappointed the government had not taken longer to consider the decision, particularly after the Husky oil pipeline spill on the North Saskatchewan River.

"You know, to really evaluate how they are regulating our resources and the protection of the environment with those resources," Nordal said. 

As part of the environmental assessment process, a government panel reviewed a 3,000-page impact statement prepared by Yancoal, as well as more than 800 submissions of public feedback.

"All of the work done by our very creditable and experienced professionals as well as the public comments we have received have led us to be confident this is the right move to go forward," Cox told reporters on Tuesday.

The proposed mine would use 11 to 12 million cubic metres of water annually from the Buffalo Pound reservoir to dissolve potash. The mining company, owned by the government of China, said they will use less water once operations stabilize, but didn't say when that would happen.

'This is devastating' 

Karen Hegglin lives just over a kilometre south of where the mine will be built. The main road into the mine will run right by her house. She said the construction of the mine and the mine itself will be a hazard to their farming community.

"I have a dog that runs around my yard every day. I have grandchildren that come and play there every day. What kind of safety concerns am I going to have?" Hegglin said.

Hegglin said road closures and high traffic during construction of the mine will also interfere with her family's farming operation. "This is devastating for us," she said. 

Conditions still need to be met

The mining company must still meet several conditions under the environmental approval, including the creation of a community involvement plan and the formation of a community advisory committee. 

Nordal said her community will not be silenced and will not back down.

"Yancoal has chosen the wrong location," she said. " We will continue to fight and advocate for that message to be heard."

She said the government needs to talk to communities that are impacted by projects and think about sustainability on all levels in order to improve their approach to approving projects like this one.