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Editorial: Potash developments big for Estevan

An editorial on economic development in Estevan.
Potash mining
Potash mining.

Among the economic development announcements made by the City of Estevan in the past couple of years, last week’s involving Buffalo Potash rates among the biggest. 

Buffalo Potash has committed to a solution mining research and development facility on land owned by the City of Estevan in the Glen Peterson Industrial Park.  

It will also allow for testing processes and equipment designed for installation in a larger fertilizer production facility, to be built in the Estevan-Bienfait area. 

We’ve had previous big announcements, with everything from a renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel facility to a greenhouse complex to a biomass facility. The greenhouse seemingly took another step forward earlier in the spring with the announcement for geothermal heat and the integration of different energy sources.

Estevan city council also recently gave first reading to a bylaw that would rezone a parcel of land from urban holding to heavy industrial. Both a large-scale greenhouse development and bio-mass plant would be potential uses

It has been noted that approval of the bylaw does not guarantee development permit approval.

We’ve also seen continued progress on the geothermal facility under development near Torquay, an announcement for a solar power facility in the Estevan area, progress on a canola processing facility at Ceres Global Ag Corp’s facility at Northgate, and numerous businesses open their doors in Estevan despite the challenges associated with the pandemic and local economic uncertainty. 

You can forgive people for wondering what has been happening with these ventures that have been announced for Estevan in the past 18-24 months.

Those who aren’t familiar with economic development might not realize how slow it really is. There’s a lot of negotiating to make these projects happen, and there’s even more work needed before the first shovel enters the ground.

Economic development can sometimes proceed with all of the speed of a tectonic plate.  

And these are large projects that require time once an announcement is made. 

For residents of Estevan, it can be tough to be patient because we don’t have an abundance of time. Unit 4 at SaskPower’s Boundary Power Station came offline last year, although it has since come out of retirement and will remain an option for SaskPower into 2023 if necessary.

Unit 5 comes offline at the end of 2024, and we’re looking at the real possibility of the end for the Shand Power Station and Unit 6 at the Boundary Dam Power Station within the next decade if they aren’t retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technology.  

And when these units come offline, not only do we lose these jobs at the power plant, we lose jobs with the mines. These jobs pay well and are staffed with skilled workers.

(That’s why it’s so vital to get the commitment to retrofit Unit 6 and Shand, and to keep pressing the government about these projects, even though decisions aren’t imminent). 

We’re not going to find that single silver bullet that is going to come here and replace the jobs lost when a unit at Boundary Dam is shuttered. It’s going to take a number of projects to offset those losses. 

The rebound in the price of oil is certainly welcome and encouraging news for the Estevan area, but we don’t know how long it will last.   

We obviously want to see coal-fired power generation remain part of the equation. We want to see a strong and healthy oil sector. But we also need to be prepared if the day comes when coal isn’t an option, and we need to get past the boom and bust economic cycles we’ve seen in the past.  

We need to diversify our economy. Bring in businesses that won’t be cyclical in nature. Have additions that will bring jobs. It’s worth noting the proposed fertilizer plant would create an estimated 100-200 positions.

It’s great that we have the businesses that we have here, the ingenuity we have here and the agricultural base that means so much to us. But we also need to look at bringing other businesses to Estevan  

Buffalo Potash’s announcement last week represents a step in the right direction. Hopefully more will be coming.