RIVERS — The Riverdale Municipality hosted a public hearing Tuesday evening to gauge residents’ reaction to an application for a conditional-use order that would allow Western Asphalt Products to set up aggregate mining operations just south of town.
The municipality held this hearing inside the Riverdale Community Centre’s curling rink, which allowed for concerned citizens, company representatives and members of council to all take part in this process in a physically distanced fashion.
Adam Mahaney, Western Asphalt’s Manitoba division general manager, kicked off the proceedings by going over the nuts and bolts of the application, which highlights the company’s plans for around 80 acres of Crown land that’s located roughly 10 kilometres south of Rivers.
According to this application form, Western Asphalt, through their corporate division 10036519 Manitoba Limited, wishes to set up mining operations within a 10-acre block of this area "as soon as reasonably practicable" to extract sand, gravel and crushed stone.
These raw materials, also known as aggregate, are required for various infrastructure projects throughout Westman and Manitoba in general.
"Aggregate is used for everything. The cement that you’re sitting on right now comes from aggregate," Western Asphalt employee Tim Case told the crowd on Tuesday night.
"It’s a limited resource. There’s only so much in the ground, and this source itself was identified in 1980 by the Manitoba Highways department as being an important source for the future of Manitoba highways."
The application goes on to disclose that Western Asphalt plans to set up a mining quarry for these operations, which would be in use from April to December each year for crushing operations.
Even though the total volume of aggregate is yet to be determined, the company is hoping that the quarry would be operational from 10 to 20 years, where they would be able to extract upwards of 50,000 tonnes of aggregate per year.
However, Mahaney said that Western Asphalt aims to fully rehabilitate the area once their mining operations come to a close, with the company planning to save all the topsoil and subsoil stripping as the pit is developed.
This reclamation project also includes working alongside the province to make sure the area is suitable for pasture and recreational activities once again, which is a process that the company has already undergone many times before.
"It is not our intention to dig a hole and leave it as gravel," Mahaney said.
Unfortunately, Mahaney’s words didn’t sway many members of the audience, some of whom actually live adjacent to where this proposed mining operation would be set up.
Producer Marlin Beever was the first person to officially voice his opposition to the application on Tuesday night, revealing that he has been leasing that section of Crown land for cattle grazing since 1973.
Throughout that time, Beever has come to believe that that section of virgin prairie grassland is a public asset that should be intended for local farmers like himself and the general public who wish to enjoy its natural beauty.
"My dad used to call it God’s country," he said. "I don’t see why people would want to desecrate that environment, but I guess it’s hard to see the beauty with dollar signs in your head."
Marlin’s wife, Eleanor, expanded on the potential environmental impact that this mining operation could bring during her time on the microphone.
Having lived on the farm for close to 38 years with her husband, Eleanor has fallen in love with this area due to its diverse mix of wildlife, which includes deer, elk, bears, coyotes and various species of birds.
Plus, in the springtime, Eleanor mentioned that the area is even decorated with beautiful flora such as tiger lilies, prairie crocuses and prairie smoke wildflowers.
"And when I read this proposal, I can only visualize total, irresponsible destruction of a unique habitat," she said.
Even if the reclamation project takes place as Western Asphalt suggests, Jocelyn Beever, Marlin’s sister-in-law, told the crowd that she was concerned about the irreversible harm that more than a decade of mining will bring to the land.
"The bare ground, through stripping, will be an invitation for invasive plant species such as leafy spurge," she said. "Spurge is an increasing problem in this municipality. It’s very difficult to control and even more so in woodlands. This will destroy wildlife habitat as (animals) will not eat this vegetation and will be forced to move on."
Several residents also brought up safety concerns with regards to this application, especially when it comes to the proposed hauling route that would carry truckloads of aggregate out through backroads and onto Highway 25.
Area rancher Cliff Penno lives near the proposed hauling route and isn’t thrilled about the prospect of dealing with a steady stream of large dump trucks throughout the next decade or so.
"I’ve talked to the other people who live on that access road, and there’s not one of them that want to see that many trucks going by there on a seasonal basis for 20 bloody years or more," he said.
"We have traffic going by there now, they’re pretty damn courteous, but I know when you multiply it by 10, 20 more trucks going by and turning on that highway, you’re looking for a major accident and quite likely a fatality."
Marlin Beever added another wrinkle to this situation by claiming he won’t allow Western Asphalt’s trucks to complete this circuit, since a portion of the proposed hauling route overlaps with his land.
"Anyone who is involved in this project will not have access to that road and will have to damn well figure out another way to get in there because it ain’t coming through us," he said.
Ruth Pryzner also flagged a potential issue with regards to Indigenous reconciliation.
The area resident said the current application doesn’t mention anything about how the applicant, the municipality or the province consulted with Treaty 2 First Nation communities about using their traditional territory for this purpose.
"It’s shameful that governments continue to sanction the taking of resources by companies and individuals from traditional Indigenous land and refuse to acknowledge, be respectful of, and act in a manner that is consistent with Aboriginal rights and our treaty obligations," she said.
In general, Tuesday’s crowd in Rivers was mostly against this mining application, a fact that was made clear by a sign-in sheet at the door, where town officials asked participants to state their position outright.
Additionally, Riverdale Mayor Todd Gill said at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing that the municipality received 21 letters from Westman residents opposing the application beforehand and only received four letters in support.
Moving forward, Gill said the Riverdale Municipality will organize another public hearing after a third party conducts a heritage impact assessment on the proposed site.
However, Mahaney told the Sun on Wednesday that it’s an open question as to whether the town council can veto this proposed mining application if they wish since Western Asphalt has already received approval from the province.
"We’re just trying to get to the bottom of that right now," he said.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson