ATHABASCA — There was a lot of push back when Athabasca Minerals Inc. (AMI) proposed a sand mine approximately eight kilometres southwest of the Town of Athabasca and there may be again.
After the Tower Road and 827 Action Group organized and started a campaign to keep mining off the proposed area AMI seemed to disappear from view until a June 23 media release that, while not saying where a new project was going, checked off all the boxes it may be destined for land south of Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Al-Pac) action group members noticed.
AMI stated in the release they are in ongoing talks with an “international industrial corporation” regarding industrial water, which could be Al-Pac and mentioned rail, power, and other benefits also pointing to the forest company 50 kilometres northeast of Athabasca.
"Privco1 & Privco2 are private Alberta corporations owned by AMI that hold the Montney and White Rabbit domestic sand deposits respectively,” the release said. “Privco2 supports the 'Prosvita Sand Project' (formerly called the Duvernay Sand Project). AMI is finalizing FEED (Front-End Engineering & Development) for the project, while continuing discussions with an international industrial corporation who brings access to rail, power, industrial water and heat recovery with green benefits, utilities and infrastructure."
In Ukrainian ‘prosvita’ means ‘enlightenment’ prompting one person on social media to quip it’s ironic AMI chose the name for a “toxic sand pit.”
However, Cheryl Grue, AMI’s director of corporate affairs said in a July 15 e-mail while the company is unable to verify the location at this point, there is a possibility of what sounds like invite-only forums, very different than the Dec. 10, 2019 open forum where between 200 and 250 people dropped in — far more than the 30 to 60 AMI was expecting showed up.
“We are hoping to put together small discussion groups with key members of the community in order to provide a smaller forum to discuss any concerns or questions,” said Grue. “I’d love to ensure that we include the members that have the biggest concerns as we need to ensure that we are listening and responding if we anticipate being a part of the community in the future.”
It’s unclear if Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) would consider “small discussion groups with key members of the community” as public engagement though.
Dana Archibald, chief operating officer for AMI, said after the 2019 meeting he found the people he spoke with enthusiastic and well-informed.
“This is a passionate and engaged community,” he said. “A community that cares.”
As for the “industrial water” mentioned in the release it is possible for AMI to piggy-back on a water license Al-Pac holds however the process is usually more complex and drawn out than a regular application.
Either way the Water Act pays particular attention to any nearby farms and residences that may have wells impacted by de-watering practices or other water concerns and any other people with concerns will only be considered if they live within a reasonable distance and could be directly impacted from the project.
Usually, there isn't public input early on for a mining application, however it will be considered in the review process if a letter is sent and normally the request for public input is done when a mining application also needs a water application.
Then Athabasca County has to approve the development and pass a land use amendment bylaw changing the current status of the land from agriculture to commercial or another use that allows mining. That change would allow for public input on the second reading scheduled two weeks after the first reading and is publicly advertised.
Some action group members have started making area residents aware of what may be happening and suggest writing a letter to several members of government including Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken, Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon.
The letter should include two things: first, a request for a public notice be placed in the local paper because as of June 21, the government has introduced the Digital Regulatory Assurance System (DRAS) which replaces other public viewers and allows the government to not advertise public notices in local newspapers so notices can easily be missed, especially if they only have a seven-day window and second, a request to be personally notified if there is a water application from AMI or jointly with AMI and Al-Pac.