They’ve written statements, gathered at the legislature, and met with politicians, but to no avail – people in Southey who are against the Yancoal potash mine don’t believe the government is listening.
On Tuesday the province announced it was giving conditional approval of the Chinese-owned company’s environmental assessment.
This was a surprise to Thera Nordal, who said she and her group were supposed to be told about the decision ahead of time. Nordal lives on a farm just outside Southey and is one of several people who have been working against the mine.
She said when the group met with Environment Minister Herb Cox and Economy Minister Bill Boyd they had been told they’d get a heads up when the decision was made. But Nordal said while Yancoal knew a week ago, the group didn’t know what the decision was until it became public.
“(I’m) really disappointed, and really lacking confidence in the system right now,” said Nordal.
According to Nordal, more than 800 environmental impact statements were submitted to the province on this, more than any other project the province has worked on. Nordal submitted one herself, but she and several others haven’t received a response from the office of the Minister for the Environment. She said it makes her concerned the statements weren’t even looked at.
“(The government is) not hearing our concern with the process – just continuing on like everything is roses.”
She believes the province was set on pushing the mine through.
“The government didn’t even pause to consider that maybe their environmental regulations aren’t up to standard.”
Nordal’s concerns are about the project centre around the effect on nearby water, what she perceives as the lack of public engagement, and the possibility the government regulation process isn’t robust enough. She also wonders what another potash mine in the province will do to the already flagging industry.
There are several conditions set into the approval, things like Yancoal paying to monitor local water, and proving it can pay to clean up any spills – but Nordal said the conditions are not any more than what would normally be put into a deal like this.
“The bar hasn’t been set any higher, the government did not go back and reevaluate their process. In light of all the public outcry not once did they stop to say ‘Oh, maybe we should look at what we’re doing. Maybe there is a reason all these people have had concerns about this.'”
Yancoal will have to conduct some community engagement activities before construction starts, but Nordal said the company has a terrible record of public engagement.
Nordal said at the end of the day it’s just the wrong time and place. She said Southey is a thriving community where people moved to be farmers, not live next to a mine – and she believes the mine will ruin it.
“The whole process is just, it’s been wrong, it’s been flawed, the company’s been able to come in and do something against the wishes of people who live there.”
There are still several steps before construction gets going on the mine. Nordal said she and others in the town are regrouping and making plans about what to do next.
Other people living in the surrounding communities who have spoken out in support of the mine, saying the development will bring an influx of money and upgrades to infrastructure to the region.