Proposed Yancoal potash mine divides Saskatchewan community

Some residents in the Southey area came to the legislature hoping to meet with the Minister of Economy to share their concerns about a proposed potash mine.

Mine project curently under review by government

These people are concerned over the proposed potash mine near Southey. (CBC)

About 60 people crammed into a room at the legislature on Wednesday to voice their concerns over a proposed Yancoal potash mine near Southey.

"Ten years ago the province was begging to have a community like ours, now they are set to destroy it," said Neil Wagner a Southey area business owner who grew up near the mine site. 

"Our concern is about the environmental impact this is going to have and that's our issue with it."

Millions of cubic metres of water to be used

Yancoal, which is owned by the government of China, wants to build a solution mine, which would use millions of cubic metres of water each year to dissolve the potash.

In solution mining, 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.

The mining company has said it will need a maximum of between 11 and 12 million cubic metres of water annually, but that amount will reduce substantially after operations are stable.

Yancoal has said it could start construction as early as this year. But opponents believe that the mine is not necessarily a done deal.

"If you feel you're too small to be effective -- have you ever been in a room with a mosquito in the dark?" said business owner and resident Thera Nordal. "We will continue to make noise until our voices are heard."

'Disappointed' after meeting with local MLA

The government had extended its period for feedback from 30 to 45 days, that expired on June 6. The group of concerned residents asked to meet with the minister of environment and the minister of economy. Instead they met with their MLA Glen Hart on Tuesday night. 
Neil Wagner is a business owner in the Southey area, he says the government is set to destroy his community if it approves the Yancoal mine. (CBC)

The group described the meeting as disappointing. Wagner said Hart alluded to the economic need for this project.

"This community may need to look at possibly sacrificing themselves because the government needs the resource money right now, Wagner said. "He mentioned it at the beginning of the meeting and he repeated it at the end of the meeting."

On Wednesday afternoon, Hart denied that he implied the community should sacrifice itself for economic benefit.

"I didn't say anything like that," Hart said. "There are other companies that are looking at developing potash mines and I said if they don't develop now, perhaps later on ten years down the road or less, depending on the potash market."

The group says there is support for the mine in the community from some business owners.

"If they want to lobby to have this in their backyard, that's their right to do so. The reality is that it is in our yard here. We are the stakeholders here," said Wagner.

"We know that it has impacted business, in fact, negatively for those that are lobbying for it. There's people now not patronizing those businesses they have lost money because of this mine. They haven't gained from it," said Wagner.

Hart said from the feedback he is getting, the majority of people in the impacted RMs are in favour on the mine.

Environment assessment ongoing

The group opposing the mine says the environmental impact assessment process is broken. Under the legislation, the company must provide the government with an environmental impact assessment which the government then reviews, along with public feedback.

Sharla Hordenchuk, with the provincial environment ministry, said the process works fine.

"The environmental assessment process is a well-established routine process that has been in operation for decades in Saskatchewan," said Hordenchuk. 

This will be the fifth potash mine the government has reviewed in recent years.  The previous four have all been approved.


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