R.M. of Corman Park rejects Fortune Minerals refinery near Saskatoon
Locals concerned refinery waste would contaminate groundwater; Environment Minister believes it's safe
In a unanimous decision, councillors in the Rural Municipality of Corman Park have voted against a controversial metal refinery project proposed in the Saskatoon area.
Fortune Minerals has been talking about building a refinery near the town of Langham, Sask. for years now. The refinery would process ore that would come from a proposed mine in the Northwest Territories and generate metals like cobalt, gold, bismuth and copper sulphate.
However, at a meeting on Monday, the R.M. council voted against the proposal, stating that the project was not a good fit for the area.
"I've got very capable councillors," said reeve Judy Harwood. "They did their homework. We certainly had a lot of contact from our ratepayers of what what their wishes were."
People in the area were mainly concerned about waste storage facilities that would permanently hold the waste rock generated by the refinery.
Environmentalists, as well as local farmers, were worried arsenic and other chemicals could potentially escape the ponds and contaminate the local aquifer.
"One of the big problems with this proposal was that it was going to leave behind a legacy of large volumes of arsenic-laced waste that were basically going to be permanently located at the site," said Saskatchewan Environmental Society board member Peter Prebble.
The project had been controversial among locals for years, with protesters regularly attending local town hall meetings on the project.
The provincial Ministry of Environment had already signed off on the project, stating it believed the company's waste storage plan was safe.
Other plans in works, company says
The site would have generated 158,000 tonnes of waste per year, and wastewater would be injected more than 800 metres underground, far below the aquifer.
In a news release, Fortune Minerals said it had already begun working on alternate plans if the R.M. voted against the proposals. It said the company was already looking for other sites in Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions.
The company is also considering selling ore from its planned NICO mine in the Northwest Territories directly to other refining companies, negating the need to build its own processing plant.
According to Fortune Minerals, the refinery would employ between 80 to 90 full-time employees and run for 20 years.
It also expected construction contracts worth $76 million during construction, with annual operational costs of $25 million.
However, Reeve Hawood said the R.M. is not concerned with the loss of the business.
"This is probably a good project and I wish them well," she said. "But it's just the location was not ideal."
Fortune Minerals aims to sell its cobalt as a component of lithium ion batteries, a key component in electrical generation from wind and solar energy.
In January, the company signed a document with the territorial government that laid out targets for Indigenous employment and spending on training and education at the NICO mine.