Last Tuesday in Esterhazy, Mosaic held an open house to discuss the next step in their continued expansion of the Mosaic K3 potash mine just east of Esterhazy. In March, Mosaic announced a continued investment into the growth of the site of $1.7 billion.
This is in continuation of the $1.5 billion investment they announced in 2009 to expand the K3 and K2 sites to bring the mine to its full production capacity of 21 million tonnes of ore a year.
The expansion has a number of parts, including the sinking of a third production shaft, which is ongoing, construction of a new head frame, and developing a conveyance system for bringing the raw ore from K3, which is the mining operation to K2, the milling operation, to be processed.
The open house was hosted to answer questions about the latter, and newest, part of the expansion, the conveyance system that will transport ore from K3 to K2. Initially, the plan was to use trucking to transport the ore the 11 kilometre distance between sites. However, those plans were changed to instead construct an above-ground enclosed conveyance system that will carry the ore.
“It’s because of tonnage rates. When we looked at how much we could truck versus how much could be put onto a conveyor, that was more economical in the long term,” says Jessica Theriault, director of environmental affairs with Mosaic Company.
The conveyance system will be 11 kilometres long, and be entirely above ground, except where it intersects with RM roads—of which there will be five on the path—and Highway 22 near the K2 entrance.
“It’s on a road bed, and goes underneath all of the roads, so that your grid roads all stay open, so that is the only place you won’t actually see it. It will work like a conveyor underground, but be on the surface and enclosed,” Theriault says.
Along the conveyance system, there will be culverts constructed to keep water flowing so that the farmland around the conveyance system is not flooded. Theriault says that throughout the course of the open house, questions about flood mitigation were common to hear.
“There’s been talk about the culverts to ensure we don’t inhibit water flow, because obviously with the last couple of years, with having some extreme storm events, that was a number one priority, to keep water flowing,” she says.
Where the conveyer intersects with grid roads, it will gradually be lowered to go underneath the grid road, which will be slightly elevated after the conveyer is built beneath it. Through the process of looking at environmental impacts, Theriault says one aspect of the process was to ensure that animals are not impacted by the change.
“We’ll have (two) wildlife crossings along the route, so wildlife can continue getting from one side to the other . . . One is underneath, like a culvert system to allow smaller mammals to go underneath the roadbed, and for the larger animals, at all grid road crossings, we are building it out on one side and grassing that to allow animals to pass along the grid road, and also having one man-made wildlife crossing in the middle of a field—that will be for cattle to go over,” Theriault explains. “All wildlife crossings, and all of environmental mitigation is all part of project approvals through the Ministry of Environment.”
Where the conveyor has to cross Highway 22 to get to the K2 site, it will also go beneath the highway. That will be just before the entrance to the K2 site.
“Even though it will go underneath highway, (the highway) will be raised a little bit. We have been in contact with Saskatchewan Highways to ensure they are all in approval of this, but it will go underneath the highway, and there will be a slight gradual bump as the conveyor goes underneath. It’s all engineered design with approval from highways,” Theriault says.
“We’ll construct a purpose-built bypass road right along Highway 22,” adds Paul McMillen, director of capital projects with Mosaic. “So we’ll build a road right beside 22, cut out 22, build the conveyor through there, finish 22, and cut out our purpose built road and lay the rest down. It will be essentially in the ditch of highway 22, on the south side.”
The first part of constructing the conveyance system is to build a purpose built road where the conveyor will run, about 800 metres south of Highway 22. Construction for the first phase is expected to start this summer.
At this point, Theriault says that there have not been complaints about Mosaic’s plans for the conveyor, even at the open house.
“We are so lucky that we have great support not only from the surrounding towns but the surrounding RMs, residents, and employees. When we go to get support, we’ve done our homework to think about what concerns they might have, but we have supportive neighbors. We listen to landowner concerns, and work with them regardless of the project we are doing,” she says.
The open house was busy on Tuesday afternoon, with the most common questions being about the appearance of the conveyance system, and when construction will get started.
“There’s lots of questions about when construction is starting and ending, and what it will look like,” says McMillen. “There’s a lot of information, so a lot of the people visiting today work at the mine, or have worked there, and the local towns and people in the area have a lot of information already, so it’s just trying to fill in blanks . . . There’s lots of communication today, so most questions are answered as people go around and look at the displays.”
Displays at the open house showed different aspects of the project, about environmental approval and assessment, wildlife and wetlands, drainage and water run off, and concerns about impacting heritage sites.
Carl Psutka, who lives in Esterhazy and whose family farms five miles away from K2, says he was interested in knowing how the development of a conveyor will impact the farmers in the region. His family used to farm very close to the K2 site, but two years ago, when the mine planned to extend the lagoon, Psutka was bought out, and moved five miles away.
“Our land, we’d had for 80 some years. With the expansion, they had to extend into our area, so we did a land swap. My son was relocated about 5 miles away. It was a big impact then—life changing.
In hindsight, it was a positive thing, but after you’re somewhere for 80 years, it’s not that easy to pack up and leave,” Psutka says. He says that being close to the milling operation did have some impacts, like the heavy salty smell in the air. Now, his son does not have to deal with those aspects of farming close to the mine. He says that he is still interested in knowing exactly how the new conveyance system will impact farmers who still have land nearby.
“ I am here today just to see what the plan was. It’s not going to affect us anymore because we are not in that situation anymore . . . It will impact farmland, I can see that. There’s a lot of environmental projects here as you look around, but there’s nothing mentioned about what happens to the farmland—not one display here about that today. I was expecting to see more about that,” he says.
Theriault says the consultations and necessary steps to take with landowners along the conveyer’s stretch have been happening since the beginning of the plans to put in a conveyance system.
“We purchased all the land, or have easements on all the property the conveyor will go on, as well as a right of way on each side of the conveyor, so if we never need to get back in there to do any maintenance, we stay on our own property,” she says. “We also made sure when we looked at the alignment of the conveyor that we met with local landowners to get their opinions on where it should go. There were a few routes picked up, but the final route was based on landowner preference. We make sure we have open communication and meet with people so they are aware of how it will impact them.”
In some circumstances, Mosaic will attempt to buy a full area of land, but in the case of the conveyance system, only around 120 metres on each side of the road allowance was purchased from land owners. Theriault adds that throughout the construction process, landowners are communicated with to ensure they know what it will be like when construction is happening.
Al Roberge is one of those landowners, with an acreage just a half mile east of the K3 entrance, on the south side of Highway 22. The conveyance system will sit not too far away from his backyard, according to Roberge. He says he is not concerned at this point, but is keeping in communication with Mosaic about how construction and the placement of the conveyor will impact him.
“There’s a little bit of concern, but we’ll talk about it with them and see what they are doing,” Roberge says. “(K3) had impacted us quite a bit—we get the road noise, but I am a truck driver, and I understand that.”
Roberge says his family moved from Grand Forks, British Columbia to their prairie acreage close to Esterhazy eight years to get away from the heavy tourist traffic. A few years later, the K3 expansion started, created more noise than they had expected, but overall, Roberge says he supports seeing continued expansion and growth of potash in the region. He says that the conveyor is a better idea than trucking the ore would have been.
“I think this is better than trucking it, with the dust and everything (from trucking). This is the first time I’ve seen the conveyor system, and it looks pretty impressive . . . Environmentally, it looked really good, the way the conveyor will go under the roads, this is way better than trucking,” Roberge says.
Esterhazy residents are happy to see a conveyance system used instead of trucking.
“It’s more economical, and will cause less disturbance. With trucking, you’d have noise from the trucks, plus the fumes from diesel, and you can’t haul that much. With a conveyor system, that will mitigate the noise, and there will be overpasses for wildlife,” says Dave Moore, who lives in Esterhazy.
Moore used to sit on the Esterhazy Chamber of Commerce, and says that Mosaic Company was in good communication with them any time new work was done.
“I am just here looking to see and confirm what they told us. They’ve pretty well done their homework, I think,” Moore says. “We’ve been kept up to date on what is going on. I think they are doing as good a job as anybody can expect, and they’ve been pretty conscious of environment since they’ve been here.”
Moore has also been part of the wildlife federation since 1959, and says that he’s happy to see a lot of consideration given to animal impact, including wildlife crossings.
Moore says the impact of the expansion, which, at peak, is estimated to bring in around 600 construction jobs, will have a positive impact on Esterhazy’s growth.
“Since the $1.7 billion expansion has been announced—I do work with the museum and spend some time at the reception centre—I’ve had people stop in wanting to know the population of the town, what businesses there are, interested in starting something, or going into business because they have heard about $1.7 billion being spent in the area,” he says.
Dan Halyk, another Esterhazy resident and retired Mosaic worker, hopes that mine expansion will encourage the provincial government to revisit the idea of a hospital being built in Esterhazy.
“We’ve been raising money and had the goal for a hospital—and enough money—for the last two or three years, and the government is holding back on their end, so with this K3 (expansion) and everything going forward, if we could get that hospital going here, it’s going to keep people coming into the community,” he says. “This will take money and manpower, so it creates jobs and it’s good for Esterhazy and the surrounding areas.”
Wreatha Curtis says the open house was helpful in understanding how the conveyance system will work.
“My concern was how it was going to cross the highway because we have so many trucks and vehicles on 22. Now, when they show it, I never thought of it staying on ground and going under the highway—that makes sense, though,” she says. Curtis says it will be positive to see the conveyance system as opposed to increased truck traffic on Highway 22. “In the past, we’ve had fatal accidents out there by the K2 mine, and we don’t want that anymore.”
Being an Esterhazy resident since the 70s, Curtis feels that the mine growth has had good impacts on the community.
“It’s truly a totally different place from 1976 when we moved here. It’s been straight go-ahead for us we’ve loved it, loved the fact that the town has grown and is still going to grow, and why not? There’s so many spinoffs from it so everybody gets a piece of the cut.”