A hearing pegging Fort Saskatchewan area residents against industry is a matter stretching beyond the scope of the community.
Environmental Defense Canada, a charitable group committed to protecting the environment, is backing the residents plea to halt an Agrium proposal for a phosphogypsum stack extension at the Redwater operations plant.
The fertilizer producer says halting the extension will eventually shut down the phosphate operations in the area over two years, costing up to 1,000 jobs.
Spokesperson for the environmental group Jennifer Foulds says the issues concerning The Northeast Strathcona County Residents and Agrium is one that will hopefully make all companies in the area, compact with industry, “look at the whole picture.”
“These residents are residing in a place where there’s a lot of industry,” said Foulds. “And they’re living with all the cumulative effects from that industry.”
Foulds described the domain, called the Industrial Heartland, as “a pollution ghetto-a situation where more and more industry is added to a particular area, creating a pocket of high pollution.”
The Natural Resource Conservation Board (NRCB) will decide, based on arguments from both the residents and Agrium, whether or not to approve the proposal. The hearing started this past Monday, and is expected to extend to Tuesday. A decision from the NRCB could take up to 90 days.
Agrium operations manager Alex Watson says the issue is not about their extension, but claims it is a re-zoning issue with Strathcona County.
“From what I understand, the area structure plan and the re-zoning that occurred a number of years ago went through a public consultation process that many residents were unhappy about,” said Watson. “So, this isn’t an Agrium issue, it’s a regional land use issue that has to be dealt with under the area structure plan.”
Residents have fought with industry and the county for years, and over the last five years have actively tried to get the Energy Utilities Board (EUB), or Alberta Environment involved with their struggle.
“This is a land use issue,” says resident Cheryl Henkelman, “but we have taken this upon ourselves because of Agrium’s noise and foul odors.”
She says health is a big concern for the area residents, their children, and their family pets.
“Experts have evidence of sick livestock, contaminated water, vegetation and fluorosis, which is discoloration of the teeth, and it can get down to the bones,” said Henkelman.
Environmental Defense points to a federal document entailing Agrium as the fifth largest polluter in the province as a reason to halt any extension of existing industry in the Heartland.
Watson says the federal information is calculated inaccurately, and is based on the level of fluoride that they purposely flow out of the plant to help a capital water treatment facility.
“The data is very misleading,” said Watson. “That’s an intentional stream the facility requests.”
The existence of extending the phosphate fertilizer business near Redwater for another 26 years is dependent upon the board’s approval.
“There appears to be a misconception out there with respect to what this project is,” says Watson. “I heard a lot of references to our plant expanding. Our plant is not expanding, we’re not increasing production, we’re not changing our process, or adding hardware, this is about us continuing to operate the way we have for the last 34 years.”
An operation the residents of Strathcona County say is wearing on their health, and some responsibility needs to be accounted for.
“There is no other choice but relocation,” said resident Tia Barlett. “This Christmas, our pony lost all of it’s molars. Maybe we can make some sense of why our family pet has lost it’s teeth. Our experts can’t look into it now, because everything has already been submitted for the hearing, but regardless of what happens, we will continue to look at the overall health issues here.”
Agrium says they’re not interested in helping the residents relocate.