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Humboldt races to improve infrastructure to meet projected demand from potash mine

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The only city near BHP’s multi-billion-dollar Jansen potash is feeling the pressure of preparing the necessary infrastructure and facilities in time for the company’s quick expansion.


On Tuesday, BHP announced plans for a $6.4 billion stage two expansion at its Jansen site currently under construction, which sets up the company to mine potash in Saskatchewan for hundreds of years.


“We see potash in the long term having very strong fundamentals around demand into the future, so the timing of a further investment looks at that long-term demand cycle,” BHP’s president of potash, Simon Thomas said.


“We see that as an opportunity today.”


BHP’s expansion will double the mine’s capacity and eventually make it one of the world’s largest potash mines. Even though construction of the first stage is roughly 32 per cent complete, production is slated to start in late 2026, with the second stage expected to start producing potash in 2029.


With that aggressive expansion comes aggressive growth. Thomas said construction over the next three years at the site will require a peak workforce of 3,500 people — 2,000 of which will continue working on stage two construction.


Thomas said when stage two comes online, the company is expected to hire an additional 900 people in Saskatchewan with at least 400 jobs staying in the nearest communities to the mine.


“We’re expecting an increase of approximately 2,500 people between Humboldt and the surrounding region,” Humboldt mayor Michael Behiel said.


“Humboldt’s the only city, urban center located here, so we’re anticipating the bulk of that is going to end up in our city.”


Thomas said BHP has been working closely with the province to develop programs for immigration, development and education to have the province as ready as possible, but Behiel said getting Hubmodlt’s infrastructure prepared hasn’t been an easy process.


Behiel said the city is working with developers to incentivize housing starts. He says the city’s wastewater facilities are near maximum capacity, so work is underway to expand the city’s lagoon to accommodate a 15,000 population at a cost of roughly $40 million.


Behiel’s been working with other rural municipality leaders and regional partners to address concerns to handle the influx of people BHP’s expansion will bring. However, he says having the company in the city’s corner has helped move things along with


“We’ve actually asked BHP at times, ‘Can you spearhead this?’ because coming from us we get very little response back,” Behiel said.


Behiel said he’d like to see tweaks to Saskatchewan’s approach to natural resource revenue sharing which he says excludes cities but not rural municipalities.


“I find it absolutely bizarre,” Behiel said.


“Even though we’re the biggest centre, we’re the city that’s going to service everything, we’re entitled to zero dollars from the province from that income.”


Behiel says he’s been very fortunate to have a good relationship with BHP for more than 10 years as they ramped up efforts in Saskatchewan. He says he’s met with numerous BHP executives in Humboldt, and couldn’t ask for a better corporate partner.


He said it also helps that BHP has the ear of the provincial government.


“They’re going to sit up and listen to you because you’re the ones that are bringing them billions of dollars in income every year,” Behiel said in a meeting with BHP.  

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