Corman Park councillors voted unanimously at a meeting on Monday, March 25 to deny an application by Fortune Minerals for a minerals storage and processing operation near Langham.
Approximately 50 area residents packed the council chambers gallery to show their opposition to the proposed plant. They stood and broke into spontaneous applause following the council vote.
“This issue has been out there for a long time,” said Corman Park Reeve Judy Harwood after the vote. “And this will finally put it to bed.
“I feel for the residents of the area because they’ve had to deal with the uncertainty for many years. So I am happy the decision has been made.
“But I also want to say that I wish the company well. There is a place for Fortune Minerals, but it’s not at this particular location.”
Fortune Minerals had purchased the 190.6 hectare (478 acre) parcel of land adjacent to the CN Rail main line and Range Road 3071 (Schultz Road) about eight years ago, with the intention of building a refinery to recover metals, including cobalt and bismuth, from mineral concentrates extracted from its NICO mining project in the Northwest Territories.
The land purchased by the company is located in an agricultural area about a mile east of Langham. It is currently zoned Agricultural District, and would have had to be rezoned to Heavy Industrial District to accommodate the processing plant. It was this rezoning application from the company that came before the Corman Park council at the March 25 meeting.
The company had already received approval several years earlier from the province after conducting extensive environmental impact studies.
However, many area residents expressed serious concerns over the possibility of waste materials from the processing plant, in particular low levels of arsenic, leaching into the ground and contaminating the Dalmeny aquifer, the large underground source of fresh water for the town of Langham and rural residents in the immediate vicinity. They also felt the proposed processing plant was incompatible with existing land uses.
Corman Park council has wrestled with the issue for years, and it has been the focus of several public meetings.
At the March 25 meeting, Saskatchewan Environmental Society spokesperson Dr. David Henry said the initially low levels of arsenic in the waste will increase in toxicity over time.
A delegation of landowners from the Langham area, including dairy farmers, also spoke out against the proposal at the meeting, and a petition containing more than 2600 names was submitted by the delegation..
Fortune Minerals Chief Operating Officer Glen Koropchuk said the proposed plant would provide an ethically and environmentally-sound source of cobalt, a critical component for batteries. Currently, he said, 65% of the world’s cobalt is sourced in the Congo, where standards are far below those of Canada.
Fortune Minerals Vice-President of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs Rick Schryer said the company’s proposed plant would pose minimal risk to the environment.
While the proposed facility included many measures to mitigate environmental and operational concerns raised during the public consultation process, councillors felt the potential for land use conflict was high. They also felt the Dalmeny Aquifer was potentially at risk.
Langham-area resident Ken Crush, a staunch opponent of the proposed refinery, said he is happy with the result of the democratic process.
“I’m very thankful the councillors listened to what we had to say, and that they took the time and effort to educate themselves about this issue,” said Crush. “There’s a lot of happy people in my area now.”