Politicians receive legal threats in Manitoba silica sand mine controversy
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg SunElectronics Semiconductors fab semi semiconductor silica
Moves made after voting in opposition to a development agreement during a Springfield council meeting held in June
A rural Manitoba councillor is accusing an Alberta-based mining company of “thuggery” after he said he and a fellow councillor were threatened with legal action over their opposition to a proposed silica mine that has been at the centre of a growing and sometimes ugly controversy in the RM of Springfield.
RM of Springfield councillors Mark Miller and Andy Kuczynski said on Wednesday they have both been threatened with possible legal action by lawyers for Calgary-based Sio Silica, after voting in opposition to a development agreement during a Springfield council meeting held in June.
At that meeting, Miller and Kuczynski voted against the development agreement which would approve the construction of a sand processing facility that would be built as part of a proposed silica mine in the community of Vivian.
Sio Silica lawyer says
“Andy and Mark have now received a letter from a Sio Silica lawyer, stating that Sio Silica is considering an action for misfeasance in public office and that finding of liability against these two council members could result in vicarious liability for the municipality,” the media release states.
The letter, which the Winnipeg Sun viewed on Wednesday, states the two councillors “pursued every conceivable option to delay the re-zoning and development agreement as it served their personal, political and/or strategic interests to do so. “They made no attempt to deal with the substance of the agreement as it pertains to the processing facility. Instead they have conflated and continue to conflate the development of the processing facility and off-site extraction activities over which the Municipality has no jurisdiction.”
Incremental delay costs and expenses
The letter goes on to say that the delays will result in “millions of dollars in incremental delay costs and expenses to our client, and needless cost to the Municipality.” The letter asks that the development agreement now be approved as soon as possible or legal action could be the next step.
“We request that the Municipality re-convene a meeting of Council to reverse its Resolution No. 23-219 and formally approve the development agreement without further delay.”
Plans have been in the works for about four years for Calgary-based Sio Silica to build a silica mine and processing plant near Vivian in the RM of Springfield, east of Winnipeg. The project calls for up to 7,700 wells over 24 years to extract ultra-pure silica sand, which can be used in the production of solar panels, batteries, and semiconductors. But those plans have been met with fierce resistance from some who live in the RM, due to concerns the project poses a serious threat to the quality of groundwater in the area.
Springfield’s previous council voted against construction of the facility, but that decision was overruled by the provincial municipal board, which told Springfield they must amend their bylaws to move the project forward. A June 13 council meeting, when councillors were supposed to vote on zoning and bylaw changes for the project, was adjourned early after several citizens confronted Springfield councillors, leaving Springfield Mayor Patrick Therrien to say he was concerned for the safety of some on council. RCMP were also called to the meeting but there were no arrests.
A final decision now lies with the province and is dependent on a Clean Environment Commission (CEC) Report the province received in June, and Environment and Climate Minister Kevin Klein promised the province would take its time to study the report before making its decision. Both Miller and Kuczynski have been vocal opponents of the project, despite the fact the final decision will lie with the province and not the municipality, and the two councillors said in their media release they still have no plans to vote in favour of the development agreement, even with possible legal threats now looming.
“This goes against democratic principles,” their media release states. “Intimidation by a corporation towards elected officials is crossing the line, amounting to thuggery. Councillors Miller and Kuczynski have stated repeatedly that their responsibilities are to Springfield residents, and trump any threats of legal action. “The councillors believe the province should immediately suspend the Sio Silica license, until a full independent review can be held to determine what further action should be taken.”
Miller and Kuczynski are both planning to speak publicly this week about their opposition to the mine and the newly threatened legal action, as they will hold a media conference on Thursday at the Springfield municipal building, where they say they will “state support for the people of Springfield and the protection of their drinking water, as well as vehemently oppose attempts by corporations to silence elected officials.”
Sio Silica didn’t respond to a Winnipeg Sun request for comment.