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You want to play in my sandbox?

Connecting the Dots is an opinion column. Today's concern focuses on how Manitoba's recently created (appointed) municipal board could override a municipal decision and push through a silica mine project development while residents are saying NO.

Industrial silica has uses too numerous to mention and is termed the invisible ingredient that keeps our civilization running. On the top, silica sand mining sounds like a wonderful project for Manitoba's development. Sio Silica is the name of an Alberta company that expects to set up a mining project with minimal surface disturbance, in eastern Manitoba. But digging a little deeper, there’s opposition at the municipal level.

There’s often opposition to a new industry. Sometimes it’s warranted. In this case, the means that can be used to push this, or any, development through are not something that Manitoba’s elected officials should ignore. It’s an example of centralization, for one thing.

According a recent publication: The Narwhal: “The company says it’s poised to help Manitoba become a leader in the green economy. It also says it has found what it believes is an unparalleled source of high-purity silica sand, used to make in-demand technologies like solar panels and lithium-ion batteries, and it plans to airlift more than 1.3 million tonnes of it out every year through hundreds (eventually thousands) of 60-metre wells across 850 square kilometres of mineral claims. The company says its operations, which include a processing facility to refine the sand and ship it to market by rail, will create between 50 and 100 direct jobs and generate some $1.2 billion in revenues for the province.”

That’s removing 1.3M tonnes of sand every year from underneath the RM of Springfield area in Manitoba’s most populous corner.

Sinkholes comes to mind. Should we worry about that?

For the Manitoba Sio Silica project, has there been enough study of the layers below? The structure that holds the aquifers in place?

If so, I would think that the company Sio Silica and the Government of Manitoba and environmental regulators would say so, and put citizens’ minds at ease and shut up the bad press.

In June of 2022 the Manitoba Eco-Network and three other groups joined to launch the “Save Our Water” campaign to raise awareness about the Vivian Sand Facility and Sand Extraction Projects that Sio Silica had planned. Their press release said, “The groups have serious concerns about the impact… particularly to the Winnipeg Sandstone and Red River Carbonate aquifers, an extremely important source of water for communities in southeastern Manitoba.”

Green energy creation (for lithium batteries), may not be as green as black gold if it undermines huge aquifers that underlie Manitoba’s busiest corner. 

The airlift extraction honestly does look like a great way to mine the sand. Air is forced down into well shafts and drives a sand-laden slurry to the surface where the sand is extracted. The water is returned through a closed system process to avoid polluting the aquifer layer.

Question: What about the cavity left from the extraction of vast amount of solid material (1.3M tonnes) every year? What about the structure of the aquifer? It’s one of the big questions that residents in the RM of Springfield are asking.

The Empire-Advance did email Sio Silica – no response.

Question: Who benefits? Who actually gets rich here? Is this to become a value-added industry for Manitoba? For Canada? Or some other country?

More jobs – good. Boost Manitoba’s economy – how much? Green energy – sure?

Here’s the kicker. Can the people who will be most affected, for good or ill, have the final say? Several years ago, a by-law was passed taking development approval out of municipal hands. Both the RM of Wallace-Woodworth and the Town of Virden discussed the bill at length in their council meetings some five years ago. Objections were made by rural municipalities at the AMM and in writing to the Province, but the bill passed.

Here’s how that bill is playing out in this Sio Silica development application, according to The Narwhal:

“The province was considering legislation that would give the municipal board — a quasi-judicial and provincially appointed body — power to resolve zoning and other land-use disputes between municipalities and developers. The bill raised red flags among municipal leaders, who worried it would allow the province to approve developments without the usual rigour of council meetings and public consultation — or overturn a council vote against a development. Decisions of the municipal board would be final; municipalities would not have the right to appeal.

“Sio Silica submitted its second zoning application in the spring of 2022, a number of months after the provincial legislation giving new powers to the municipal board had passed. So when Springfield council shot down the new zoning application in June 2022, the company was able to ask the municipal board to intervene.”

Is this an example of the consequence of centralization? Yes - an example of what centralization CAN do.

For a deeper look, see: “The Narwhal, Manitoba Sio Silica Sand Conflict” or “Winnipeg Free Press, Shifting sands, mounting concerns"  and the Sio Silica company’s site:


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