I Don’t Dig It

**This featured case is one example of the concerns people have brought to us. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.

Ministry of Environment – Lands & Forest Division

Type of Service: Investigation & Mediation

As owner of a sand and gravel business, Brad wanted to lease a gravel pit that was close to his home community. The pit was on Crown land, so he sent an application to his Conservation Officer. The Conservation Officer noticed that the area Brad was interested in was near an existing lease that was not properly staked, so he asked the Lands Branch of the Ministry of Environment to clarify the exact location of the existing lease so Brad could properly request the area he was interested in. The Conservation Officer asked Brad to wait until this was done.

More than a year passed and a gravel company from outside the province applied to lease three sites in and around the same area. They were given permission from Lands Branch to proceed. When Brad realized that they were planning to extract sand and gravel from the same area he had applied for, he complained to the Ministry. He also tried to find a way to work with the new company and to see if they would co-lease the area with him. This did not work out and over the next two years, the other company sold significant amounts of sand and gravel to Brad’s community. Brad had successfully applied for one other location, but it contained only sand and he had to buy his gravel at full market value from the company that was leasing the gravel pit he wanted. This made it difficult to compete on bids that required gravel.

Lands Branch had acknowledged to Brad that they made a mistake by approving the out–of-province gravel company’s application before Brad’s. However, they were not prepared to cancel the lease with the other gravel company. Lands Branch suggested that Brad find another location to apply for another gravel pit lease. Gravel pits were, however, a rare find in that area, so Brad wanted to lease the land he originally applied for and did not think he should have to search out new sites.

In the meantime, the original existing lease near the one Brad wanted had come up for renewal and for a time there appeared to be a possibility that Brad may be able to lease it, but it was renewed by the company with the existing lease, who then sold the lease to a third party – a step approved by Lands Branch.

Now, three years had gone by since Brad’s original application and he still did not have the lease he applied for, or anything comparable. He contacted our office for help.

Our investigation found that Lands Branch had made several process mistakes and shown favouritism. For example, they had made Brad wait for the land he wanted to lease to be properly staked. While he was still waiting, they allowed the out-of-province company to go in and do the staking themselves – which Lands Branch then accepted without question and approved the corresponding lease applications. The result for Brad was lengthy delays and lost revenue. It was difficult to determine just how much revenue Brad had lost, but it was clearly significant.

Recommendations Made:

That the Ministry locate, in consultation with Brad, an alternative gravel site taking into account quality of materials, distance to the source and the cost of the development.
That those associated costs related to locating a source and the development of the source be borne by the Ministry.
After receiving our recommendations, the Ministry of Environment asked for a mediation process with Brad. He agreed to this and we arranged for the Dispute Resolution Office to facilitate the mediation, which we participated in as well. Two mediation sessions were held and the end result was that Saskatchewan Environment signed a service contract with Brad for him to seek out promising sites for new gravel pits. He found two. Saskatchewan Environment then agreed to pay Brad a further amount to clear the sites and cover some of the lease fees.

The Ministry also committed to improve their processes for staking lease areas so as to avoid confusion in the future, especially where leases are adjacent to one another.

Closed as: Recommendations Made

Status: Accepted