Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No peat mines in provincial parks

Ban means firm can't exploit leases

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Manitoba is banning peat mining in provincial parks as well as in a region east of Lake Winnipeg that's been nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The ban means Sun Gro Horticulture Canada, which had applied to extract peat in Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park, will be prohibited from developing its long-held leases in the park.

On Friday, the province issued licences to Sun Gro and Berger Peat Moss Ltd. to extract peat at two different sites near Riverton. Both applications had been under review for some time.

As of Monday, though, the government will suspend any new Environment Act licence applications and approvals for peat mining in Manitoba until it completes a comprehensive peatland stewardship strategy, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said in an interview Friday. (The only exception will be an application in the Interlake by Sunterra, which is currently undergoing an environmental review.)

As well, the province will extend a moratorium on 137 pending peat-mine leases beyond this coming June until its peatland strategy is in place.

The proposal by Sun Gro to extract peat from a 531-hectare site within Hecla/Grindstone park raised a public furor when it was revealed last January.

Mackintosh, who was then new to the portfolio, initially promised a swift verdict on the matter, but then took more than a year to announce his intentions as he grappled with various industry issues.

"Manitobans have expressed very strongly to us their concern about peat mining in provincial parks, as a result of the (Sun Gro) application. And so we've listened to that," he said Friday, in explaining his decision.

Manitoba will pay Sun Gro $492,000 to reimburse it for past lease payments and related exploration and legal costs. In return, the company will renounce claims to five quarry leases it held within the provincial park.

Bob Sytsma, a vice-president with Sun Gro Horticulture, said while the company is disappointed it is not able to develop leases it held for three decades, it understands the reasoning behind the government's decision.

He said he's also encouraged by the development of a provincial strategy so the industry will know where it stands.

"We're very committed to collaboration on developing standards in Manitoba," Sytsma said, noting such processes are already in place in New Brunswick and Quebec.

Cottagers, environmentalists and Liberal and Green party politicians had condemned the proposed peat mine in the park.

On Friday, Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, welcomed the government's decision to ban peat mining in provincial parks.

"We believe industrial developments have no place within our parks' boundaries," he said.

Mackintosh said the government isn't prepared to go as far as to eliminate all mining in provincial parks.

There are more than 1,600 mining claims, leases and operations "in large, remote parks," Mackintosh said. To expropriate these operations, he said, would cost "hundreds of millions of dollars" and lead to the loss of many northern jobs.

The province will be releasing its new parks strategy in the next several weeks, the minister said. He said he will also strike a group to look into all forms of mining in parks to seek "a better balance" between environmental and industrial interests.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 A8

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