Kings County Record Article November 11, 1997
Kings County Record
November 11, 1997

Union fights to save Potacan
By Cindy Grant

SUSSEX - The United Steelworkers and it's Local 9129 are mobilizing to salvage Potash Company of Canada Ltd.'s Cassidy Lake mine, which directly employs 380 union members.

(Grant Photo)

Staff representitive Cal Ludee said the union was taken by surprise when the company announced the closure of the mine at the end of October. Last year, the mine produced 1.1 million tonnes of the fertilizer chemical, which is about three percent of the world output. There's still $1-billion worth of potash underground at Cassidy Lake.

"We need to get the flooding stopped immediately so we can determine if the mine can be salvaged," said Steelworkers Canadian national director Lawrence McBrearty. "The company must restart the underground pumps to keep the mine from flooding, and stop pumping the outside brine water down into the mine."

Union officials me with provincial government ministers and Premier Ray Frenette Thursday to discuss options to stop the flooding of the mine. "The government has a crucial role to play in persuading the company to restart it's pumps," McBrearty said.

"We're working with community and business groups to save the mine. If the mine is abandoned, the region will suffer economically, not to mention the environmental damage being done by pumping saltwater into the mine. The government has the responsibility to attract potential investors to the project."

The Steelworkers have retained mining experts to examine all the available information and independently assess if the leak can be stopped. Dr. John Gale, who owns Flacflow Consultants Ltd., will have some of his people here this week.

In the meetings with government ministers and the premier, Luedee said it was made clear that the union felt very strongly about having the mine evaluated to determine if it is still a viable mine. "If our experts, along with government experts could see if the mine could be salvaged and if the present owners have no interest in the mine, we would work with the government to find investors. If we had to, the union would go into a joint venture with an interested party."

Luedee said the government has been asked to set up a committee of union, government, and company representatives to work together. "We have, at this time never met with Potacan company president Jochen Witt. We understand he has agreed to meet with us."

On Friday, union lawyers were in Sussex interviewing people and preparing complaints which were sent out to federal and provincial government offices. One was sent to Joan Kingston, Minister of the environment, under the Clean Environment Act.

"We are saying the company has interrupted production of the mine following the flooding of the mine by freshwater inflow. There have been some attempts to pump the water out, however, the company has abandoned the pumping out and has began to pump saltwater into some sections of the mine. Our concern is that the company is leaving numerous vehicles and equipment, supplies of fuel, oils, and other contaminants underground and that the backfill the company is putting back down the mine in the mine has a number of chemicals in it that were used in the milling process. With the water mixing with all these chemicals, we feel there is a real danger of contamination of the groundwater in the area of the mine. We feel what the company is doing is unlawful and we are asking the minister to take prompt action.

"We believe that she should issue a ministerial order insisting Potacan stop pumping brine into the mine. Also, she should direct Potacan to remedy the situation it has created by flushing the mine and removing various sources of contaminates left underground. We want them to take positive steps to remove all of these things and live up to their obligation."

"We also filed a complaint with Greg Byrne of state for mines and energy under the Mining Act. Under the Leasing Act, we are saying the abandoned equipment needs to be retrieved. There has been illegal conduct. They have violated sections of the act. Also, failure to provide the government with 90 days notice prior to closure and failing to provide the minister with the required plans for closure is a serious violation.

We are asking the minister to order Potacan immediately cease flooding the mine with saltwater, to immediately begin pumping out the salt and freshwater from the mine and provide access to the mine for the union experts to assess the feasibility of resuming mining.

The union also filed a letter to the federal government's competition bureau.

"We feel the closure of the mine is intended to limit unduly the facilities for producing and supplying potash, limit unduly the production of potash, lessen unduly competition in the production, sale and supply of potash, otherwise restrain and injure competition in the production and supply of potash. We are asking them to inquire into this matter under the competition act and to take whatever steps are necessary to protect competition in the potash industry. We also sent a copy of this complaint to the Minister of Industry John Manley. We have also filed action under the collective agreement between the parties>"

From his Toronto office yesterday, Witt said he firmly believed there was no other decision for Potacan.

"Some of the comments I am hearing are extremely farfetched. When the decision was made to cease the operation, it was a joint decision made by the French and German owners, mine management, and mining experts on site. It was everybody's opinion that there was no solution to the water problem."

Witt said it is understandable that people are nervous, but they should control what is being said as rumours are not helping anyone, and may even be making matters worse.

the company president is also standing behind the decision to pour saltwater brine into the mine.

The freshwater is coming in ad dissolving the salt and potash and structures of the mine."

Witt said if there are people out there who believe the mine can be salvaged, let them come forward.

"If the union and government think they can save the mine, by all means make us an offer."