By Don Norman
On May 17, the Manitoba government announced that it had issued Canadian Premium Sand Inc. (CPS) environmental licencing approval to establish a silica sand operation near Seymourville and Hollow Water First Nation.
A government press release said that “following an extensive review and consultation process, the province has issued an environmental license for this project. Manitoba’s environmental licencing and approval process has been carried out in accordance with The Environment Act, subject to 96 terms and conditions. The province will monitor the project to ensure compliance.” Some of these conditions include additional requirements for dust control, groundwater monitoring, and wildlife monitoring in the region.
“We respect the concerns of our community and have worked diligently with CPS to develop detailed plans that address health concerns and restore the land immediately after quarrying,” said Chief Larry Barker, Hollow Water First Nation. “More than nine months ago our elders began meeting frequently with the company to address their concerns as well. As a result, the processing facility will be completely enclosed to eliminate dust and restoration plans will be monitored by a community-based oversight committee.”
While Barker and the Hollow Water band appear confident that the project is safe and ecologically sound, there are at least a few band members from Hollow Water who remain unconvinced. An on-going protest camp, called Camp Morning Star was set up in February and has kept a ceremonial fire burning ever since. Camp Morningstar, with the help of Winnipeg environmental activist group, the Wilderness Committee organized a protest on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday. A small but vocal group of gathered around the legislature steps.
In the corresponding press release, Wilderness Committee Spokesperson, Eric Reder said, “The Manitoba government just approved an oil and gas fracking project on Hollow Water and Treaty 5 territory that will last for 53 years. Camp Morningstar and supporters object to this destructive project and are not going away.”
While the project is not actually an oil and gas fracking operation as Reder implies, the majority of the sand mined at the Wanipigow site will be used in to facilitate fracking – an oil and gas extraction method that has come under fire from some environmental groups.
Camp Morningstar organizers have said they will appeal the licencing decision. They will have until June 14 to do so.
There have also been concerns raised from people all along the route the trucks will be taking to Winnipeg. the East Beaches social media sites have been inundated with people’s concerns regarding traffic issues. Sagkeeng and the RM of Alexander have both raised concerns on this issue as well. RM of Alexander Reeve, Jack Brisco said he was encouraged by the economic benefits but also said, “when you have more traffic on the highway, you have more risk. We want to make sure the highways are looked after and maintained and are able to support that kind of traffic.”
The environmental assessment addresses these concerns. In the report, Manitoba Infrastructure (MI) said that the traffic impact study provided in the original proposal was insufficient and that CPS would have to provide another that considers items such as “public safety, capacity, pavement strength, damage from loading, as well as provide options and make recommendations on mitigation measures to offset the impacts on the provincial highway network. Manitoba Infrastructure will require the opportunity to provide input to the Traffic Impact Study which will include crossing the Pine Falls Generating Station.”
Not only will CPS be on the hook for a new traffic impact study, but the results of the study could very well put the company on the hook for highway upgrades. According to a spokesperson from MI, a new business or development is required to fund highway upgrades “if the traffic generated by the development triggers a need.”
She went on to say that highway upgrades are usually generated by two main issues: surface roughness and safety. “Factors used to prioritize upgrade projects are traffic volumes, types of traffic (amount of trucks), condition of roadway, design requirements (horizontal and vertical alignments, shoulder widths, access control, intersections, loading) and importance of the roadway (national highway vs local road).”
Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said the government is pleased with the economic prospects the project could bring to the province. “We welcome Canadian Premium Sand and its investment to our province to create jobs and economic growth in the community,” said Pedersen. “It is an example of how First Nations, industry and government can be active partners in all phases of mineral development to create and share in the benefits of growth in the sector.”
The Wanipigow Silica Sand Extraction Project, with an estimated investment of over $150 million, is expected to generate 150 local jobs and run for over 50 years, the minister said. “Not only does the project harness Manitoba’s high-quality silica sand, it does so in an environmentally responsible way while providing jobs and economic opportunities for local communities, including Hollow Water First Nation, Manigotagan and Seymourville,” he said.
“Our local community commitment represents many partnerships and resource sharing for generations to come, and with more than 50 years expected for the life of the operation, designing for sustainability has been paramount,” said Lowell Jackson, executive chairman and director, CPS. “The Wanipigow Sand Project is the development of a world class, completely enclosed, silica sand processing plant which will be capable of operating year-round. CPS will implement rolling restoration, will recycle all of the process water, and will utilize best practices to assure minimal impact to the environment and the local communities.”