A local environmental group has accused the Selinger government of allowing a mining company to start construction of a tailings pond before a decision has been made to issue the company an environmental licence for the project.
The Wilderness Committee said San Gold Corporation started work on the tailings pond near Bissett before the public consultation period for the environmental licence began.
"It is reasonable to think that if a government is asking for input on a project licence, they won’t start building under after the comments are collected and a licence issued," said Eric Reder, campaign director of the Wilderness Committee.
San Gold said it had permission from the government to clear-cut the area, about 98 hectares, in anticipation of building a new tailings pond.
"We gained permission to remove the trees and then they were sent to a commercial facility. The company was actually requried to pay stumpage fees to Manitoba conservation in order to take the trees out, so we complied with all the requirements of that permit," said Ian Berzins, chief operating officer for San Gold.
They have applied for a licence to build the pond, which would drain into a tributary of the Wanipigow River, about 45 kilometres upstream from Lake Winnipeg.
A 30-day public comment period on the proposal ended May 24 and a decision on whether to issue a licence is expected within the next few months.
Reder said a research expedition to the site of the proposed pond found on June 7 found that work on the project had already been started, with a huge area of forest around the site razed.
Reder said San Gold would not have begun the work without the consent of government officials.
"The proposed tailings pond is two kilometres outside of Bissett," Reder said. "There is a conservation office in Bissett. This is a massive section that has been razed. Someone must have known."
However, Berzins said the only work that has been done is deforestation in anticipation that the permit will go through and that the actual construction of the pond has not started.
A provincial government spokesman said the allegation is being investigated.
-- with files form Jenny Ford