Home » The Canadian Press » Manitoba Denies Environmental Licence to Sand Project Over Drinking Water Concerns

Manitoba Denies Environmental Licence to Sand Project Over Drinking Water Concerns

February 16, 2024 3:02 PM | The Canadian Press

By The Canadian Press

Wab Kinew

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew speaks at an event in Winnipeg, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has nixed a contentious sand-extraction project that had been proposed by Sio Silica east of Winnipeg, citing concerns about drinking water.

Premier Wab Kinew and Tracy Schmidt, Manitoba’s environment minister, announced Friday the province decided not to grant an environmental licence to the Vivian project.

“Our government will always put the health and safety of Manitobans first, and this includes ensuring communities have safe, clean drinking water,” Kinew said in a release.

“After taking the time and doing our due diligence, our government has come to the decision that the risks of this proposal outweigh any potential benefits.”

Schmidt said the proposal failed to adequately consider long-term impacts, including potential aquifer collapse.

“We have a responsibility to ensure we are not endangering Manitobans’ drinking water,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt’s decision was based on expert information as well as consultation with affected communities and First Nations, said the government news release.

It said a Clean Environment Commission report flagged a number of serious concerns about the project, which would have extracted sand through aquifers that provide drinking water to about 100,000 Manitobans.

The full project would have created thousands of wells over 24 years across a large swath of southeastern Manitoba, although only an initial phase was being reviewed for approval.

“This is a huge loss for Manitoba and Canada as a whole,” Sio Silica, which is based in Calgary, said in a written statement.

“Of course, we are disappointed with the decision of the NDP government today on our licence, especially in light of the fact that Sio was advised that the province had no more questions.”

The company said Schmidt declined meeting requests and has never shared any concerns with Sio.

It called the decision “political and not based on science or facts.”

It also said it was not given prior notice of the announcement or given the opportunity to respond in advance of it.

“Sio remains hopeful that the government will be open to discussing solutions that are grounded in science and do not squander this multi-generational opportunity for the people of Manitoba,” the company said.

“In the meantime, Sio will take the coming weeks to evaluate its legal options in the face of the minister’s decision today.”

Meanwhile, Tangi Bell, with the citizen advocacy group Our Line in the Sand, commended Manitoba for listening to the community and scientific evidence.

“This project raised too many risks for Manitoba’s precious aquifers,” Bell said in a release.

Glen Koroluk, with Manitoba Eco-Network, added in the joint release: “This project never made sense for the region or for Manitoba.”

The project became a political flashpoint following the Progressive Conservatives’ defeat in the October provincial election, as the NDP were poised to take power.

Two former cabinet ministers — Rochelle Squires and Kevin Klein — have said they were called separately by former Tory economic development minister Jeff Wharton days after the election loss. They said Wharton asked them to approve the project before the new NDP government could be sworn in.

Klein and Squires both said they refused.

Wharton has denied the accusation and said he was simply gathering information about the project to pass on to the incoming government.

The New Democrats have filed complaints with the provincial ethics commissioner against Wharton and former PC premier Heather Stefanson.

Stefanson has also said she didn’t try to push through the approval following her party’s election loss, and that her government was presenting information to the incoming NDP government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2024.

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

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