Fortune Minerals hosts heated public meeting in Langham

More than 100 people from the Langham area came to face off with Fortune Minerals' experts on Tuesday night. Many voiced concerns over chemical contamination and water use at the company's proposed mineral processing refinery.

More than 100 people packed town hall

Fortune Minerals hosted a heated open house on Wednesday night at Langham's town hall.

The company said it held the meeting to share information about its proposed Saskatchewan Metals Processing Plant, that would be located near the community.

Before the meeting even began angry community members were waiting outside, to voice their opposition.

Calvin Vaandrager owns and operates a dairy farm south of Langham. He has farmed in the area for 10 years and is worried that the proposed plant will jeopardize his water supply.

"Water is one of the most valuable resources and you start playing with water, who knows what will happen," Vaandrager said. "With dairy production that is one of the main ingredients."

Earlier this year Fortune Minerals' environmental impact plan passed a review conducted by officials at Saskatchewan's Environment Ministry. The document contains the company's plan for keeping contaminants out of the air and groundwater. But people at the meeting, including Vaandrager, are not convinced.

"Pumping contaminated water back down, through the aquifer, to the other aquifer, I mean things break," Vaandrager told CBC News. "I don't care what kind of safety guards they have, things happen. Nuclear power plants aren't supposed to blow up and they do. To put it plain, crap happens."    

Fortune Minerals' experts say plan is safe

Fortune Minerals set up separate booths around the perimeter of the large hall where staff and technical experts hired by the company were waiting to address the public's questions and concerns.

Each booth dealt with a different part of the proposed plant's plan.

Rick Schryer is Fortune Minerals' director of regulatory and environmental affairs. He stood at the station which offered information about how the company plans to store the 158,000 tonnes of toxic waste it will produce annually.

Schryer told CBC News the risk to the area's ground water is minimal.

"The material that we are going to be putting in the ground is kind of like the sand you would use to build a sand castle," Schryer said. "Below that is a layer of clay and on top of that is a big plastic liner. Below that is a leak detection system. If it leaks, if it actually gets through the clay, we'll know that."

Fortune Minerals' plan proposes storing large cells of this waste —which will include large amounts of scorodite, a form of arsenic— permanently in pits beside the plant. 

The company says contaminated water will be injected more than 800 metres underground, far below the Langham area's source of drinking water.

Schryer told CBC News the company's leak detection system would be monitored on a ongoing basis for the foreseeable future, to ensure the safety of the water supply.

Meeting interrupted by opposed members of the public

After about an hour the public consultation was interrupted by a man standing on a chair in the middle of the hall. He told the room he was upset that Fortune Minerals had not provided an opportunity for a collective question and answer session with experts. He was joined by several other attendees who took turns standing on the chair in the middle of the room, to express their concerns.

Shortly after the circle had formed, a man confronted Fortune Minerals' CEO Robin Goad, insisting that Goad address the concerns that were being expressed in the large circle. Goad refused to do so and the man flipped a table spilling coffee.

Despite the disruptions, Mr.Goad told CBC News he felt the meeting went well.

"There are many people that I have spoken to tonight who have felt much more comfortable after I addressed some of their issues and they told me so," Goad said.

Reeve not convinced

Now that the environmental approval has been granted by the province, Fortune Minerals' next step is to convince the Rural Municipality of Corman Park to rezone the land. 

Judy Harwood, reeve of the RM, is not convinced the mineral processing plant is in the best interests of the area.

"Well really, all the councillors and myself have only been receiving negative letters and emails and phone calls," Harwood said.

Harwood said Fortune Minerals has not yet come to Corman Park to request any rezoning or development permits.

Harwood also told reporters at the meeting she too had hoped that rate-payers in her RM would have had the opportunity to stand in front of a microphone and ask questions.

"I am kind of disappointed for the rate-payers that they didn't have that format," Harwood said.

Concerns remain

Jennifer Cowles and Tom Baxter live in Dalmeny. Both of them frequently use highway 305, a road that Fortune Minerals' plans to use to transport four truckloads of cyanide per year, to aid in the extraction process of gold.

They are worried that Fortune Minerals is not prepared to deal with the magnitude of destruction that would be caused in the event of a spill along the highway.

"If there is actually a spill or a rollover of cyanide. Who is responsible for cleaning that up? Where is that money going to come from," Cowles said.

Baxter lives along highway 305. He said even after speaking with the company's CEO about his concerns, he does not feel reassured about Fortune Minerals' plan to deal with any sort of disaster, including a toxic spill.

"We're very concerned about the chemicals they're going to be using and the processes," Baxter said. "They don't seem to have much of an emergency response team in place and they don't know if they'd be willing to give funds to local departments to be able to respond to an incident at their plant."

Some stand to gain from plant

David Hyde, a sales manager for a mining supply company in the area, said that the plant would boost his bottom line.

"We are a supplier, so we hope [the refinery] goes forward," Hyde told CBC News. "And from what I can see it looks like they are doing their due diligence on this, with their environmental impact [assessment]."

At Wednesday's meeting Fortune Minerals' collected written input from the meeting's attendees. They plan to take the input and use it to move forward with further planning for the proposed plant.