April 3, 2019 8:07 pm
Updated: April 4, 2019 7:44 am

Conservation group raises concerns over proposed potash mine near Regina

WATCH: A conservation group is raising concerns over a proposed potash mine near Sedley, Sask.

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A conservation group is calling on the Saskatchewan government to do more after raising concerns about a proposed potash mine near the village of Sedley.

CanPacific Potash is proposing a new 3.25 million tonne per year solution potash mine and submitted its environmental impact assessment to the province in January.

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Trevor Herriot, co-chair of Public Pastures-Public Interest (PPPI), says he’s worried about the impact to native grasslands in the area.

“Even though they are not going to strip all the grass off, it’ll be disturbed, it’ll be fragmented — there will be noise and development there,” Herriot said.

READ MORE: Producers not happy with changes to Saskatchewan’s potash production tax

The potash lease is about 50,000 hectares in size. An estimated 84 per cent of that is cultivated land, while the remaining 16 per cent includes grasslands, wetlands and roadways.

While the lease is much bigger than the proposed plant site, the mine will cover 1,175 hectares.

Of that, Herriot estimates roughly 200 hectares, the equivalent of 374 football fields of native grasslands, will be destroyed over time.

WATCH: Saskatchewan grasslands shrinking (2016)

With Saskatchewan having one of the highest rates of grassland decline in North America, with roughly 13.7 per cent left, Herriot says the province can’t afford to lose any more.

“When you’ve lost 86 per cent of a habitat, it becomes very valuable,” Herriot said.

The environmental impact assessment also identified nine species at risk, including Saskatchewan’s official bird, the sharp-tailed grouse.

“That bird is declining at almost five per cent a year,” Herriot said. “Well, in 25 years you see where that goes — you’ve lost a quarter of the birds.”

READ MORE: Prairie grasslands disappearing at an alarming rate in Canada

In a statement, the company says, “We understand the importance of habitat conservation including that of grasslands, wetlands, and riparian environments, and have designed a comprehensive environmental management plan to ensure Project Albany is environmentally sustainable.”

The statement went on to read, “CanPacific seeks to avoid and minimize biodiversity loss and land disturbance. Our approach is consistent with mitigation practices of avoidance, minimization, restoration, and offsets where appropriate.”

Full statement: CanPacific Potash Inc Media

Still, Herriot says the impacts could be far-reaching, and even though the land in question is private, he wants the province to step up and do more.

“We have new sets of guidelines for wind development, saying, ‘hands off of the native prairie,'” Herriot said. “We’d like to see [the province] do the same with these solution potash mines.

“When there’s a regulatory oversight which is what we have with Environmental Impact Assessments on big projects like this, the province is involved, and has an opportunity to protect native grass.”

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Herriot added that he wants to see the site moved so that no grasslands or wetlands are disturbed.

“These species are more sensitive than people realize, more than industrial developers realize, and it’s not easy to recover or restore native grassland once you plowed it up,” Herriot said.

According to the manager of applications with the environmental assessment and stewardship branch of the Ministry of Environment, Brianne England, public feedback is being accepted until April 15.

“Following public review, the minister of environment will make a decision to either approve or refuse the project and he will consider both technical and public comments when making that decision,” England said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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