RURAL DEVELOPMENT The program was put on hold in 2018 after financial and management irregularities were discovered
The province announced it will resume providing funds to rehabilitate spent quarries into usable land after a two-year pause while the program was investigated.
Under the Quarry Rehabilitation on Private Land Program, $6.7 million will be available this year for landowners looking to restore quarry sites, Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen said in a news release Aug. 13.
The province is once again funding efforts to put old quarries back to better use, after a two-year pause.
This is a one-time program for landowners who have registered and paid levies into the program, a provincial spokesperson told the Manitoba Co-operator.
The province paused the program in 2018 after financial irregularities came to light after the department responsible came under new management.
In May, the Office of the Auditor General released a report on the matter. It found the program had poorly defined criteria for selecting projects to fund and prioritized spending over addressing the risks the projects and quarry sites posed.
While quarry landowners are required to pay a levy to the program based on tons of aggregate removed, returns from quarry owners weren’t checked for reasonableness, and their due dates weren’t monitored.
According to the report, projects were broken up in to components of less than $50,000 per title per year to avoid the tendering process.
The report found that inspectors were favouring contractors they knew, sometimes emailing them instructions on amounts to invoice.
“Our government takes these recently released findings very seriously,” Pedersen said in the Aug. 13 release. “A review of the findings in the audit reports with Manitoba Justice is ongoing.”
The new program includes a redone application and evaluation process, which the province says will be based on, “transparent criteria and a competitive cost-per-cubic-metre evaluation,” and will prioritize projects based on outcomes.
The program will also focus on private quarries that have been registered and have paid environmental levies on the property, the release said.
The auditor general’s report made 15 recommendations, including the recommendation to assess quarry returns, create a database of all quarry sites including Crown quarries (with higher-risk sites prioritized for inspection and rehabilitation oversight) and provide contractors and landowners with regular statements of account. The department should also follow required tendering practices and develop a quality assurance process for the program, the report further recommended.
“The department is undertaking a zero-based review of the program to ensure that quarries and pits are rehabilitated in an effective and responsible manner,” the provincial spokesperson said.
The 2020 program includes a quality assurance program, they added. This includes a standard, detailed application form with required photos, maps and other documentation to support it. The department will do a standard review of the application to make sure it meets eligibility requirements.
The department has also contracted a consultant to review applications to ensure they meet program requirements and standards and that the cost is reasonable, the province has said.