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Atlantic Gold presses for environmental permit in NS

CHRONICLE-HERALD (HALIFAX, NS)

Atlantic Gold presses for environmental permit

Aaron Beswick (abeswick@herald.ca)
Dec. 18, 2018

Before Atlantic Gold’s environmental impact assessment has even been filed, the battle lines have already been drawn over the company’s proposed open-pit mine near the St. Mary’s River, Guysborough County.

At stake is 350,000-400,000 ounces of gold the company expects to dig and process out of Cochrane Hill.

That’s more than $550 million to $630 million worth of gold, at the $1,580 an ounce the company has been selling gold from its Touquoy Gold Project in Moose River. Atlantic Gold projects in its financial filings to shareholders total costs of $692 an ounce of gold from Cochrane Hill or $242 million to $277 million.

The hitch is that the 241 hectare mine site, which will include a two kilometre long tailings pond maintained by a 70 metre high earthen wall, is less than a kilometre from the St. Mary’s River.

It would also require the re-routing of Highway 7 and it overlaps slightly with a proposed protected area.

And though the population of Cochrane Hill is small, the St. Mary’s River has a lot of defenders in northern Nova Scotia.

The St. Mary’s River Salmon Association has started its No Open Pit Excavation (NOPE) campaign and multiple other salmon associations from around Atlantic Canada have also filed submissions protesting against the proposed mine with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The council for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, meanwhile, has promised to take a position on whether it supports the proposed mine once more information is gathered.

“Atlantic Gold encourages St. Mary’s councillors to reserve any decision on whether to support the Cochrane Hill project until they have received and reviewed the results of studies currently underway including the assessment of environmental effects, the company’s plans to manage and mitigate those effects, and the benefits that increased employment and an increased tax base will have on their community,” wrote spokesman Dustin O’Leary to The Chronicle Herald.

The company declined to provide an interview with The Chronicle Herald and did not directly answer a written question as to whether it would be willing to proceed with the mine if the local council came out opposed to it.

All Crown land in the District of St. Mary’s is classified under its land use bylaws as “conservation” and the permitted activities on such land do not include mining.

Coun. Kaytland Smith, who represents Cochrane Hill and surrounding communities, said Friday that council is expecting a request from Atlantic Gold for a zoning change.

She’s been going door to door talking to her neighbours about their opinions on the proposed mine and plans to hold an open house to further gather their opinions early in the New Year before taking a public position.

“I was elected to represent the opinions of my constituents and not my own,” said Smith.

Opinions in the District of St. Mary’s are mixed some looking at the 220 jobs Atlantic Gold is promising over Cochrane Hill’s seven year lifespan and others at potential harm to the river that links most of the communities in the municipality.

For Atlantic Gold the stakes are also high.

According to the company’s third quarter financial filings as of Sept. 2018 it had spent $11.5 million between acquiring the Cochrane Hill claim, exploration and environmental studies.

Cochrane Hill, along with a proposed open-pit mine at Fifteen Mile Stream, is part of Atlantic Gold’s Phase 2 plan for mine expansion. Its potential reserves are about a quarter of Atlantic Gold’s total projected resource between Phase 2 and its two open-pit mines in the Moose River area (Touquoy and Beaver Damn), which compose Phase 1.

The company has sold or issued more than 236 million shares, the price of which is affected by the expected profit the Vancouver-based company will make during its time in Nova Scotia. As of Monday, those shares were trading at $1.74.

Opposed to Atlantic Gold is the St. Mary’s River Association. Volunteers with that group have been working to rehabilitate the damage of human impacts like forestry and acid rain to the river.

Beyond physical work to the river, the volunteer group also teamed with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the province to release 170,000 salmon fry, 40 adult salmon and 25,000 sea trout in 2018.

The association is also waiting on approval for a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Coastal Restoration Fund to start a liming project that would lower the acidity of the river.

“We’ve put all our other work on hold as we ramp up our campaign to fight this mine,” said president Scott Beaver, who himself lives along the river in nearby Waternish.

The association is concerned with the amount of water that will be taken out of Archibald Lake for mine start up (500,000 cubic metres) and continued operation (50,000 cubic metres per day).

“During warm summers and low-water conditions we need every bit of water flowing into that river,” said Beaver.

The area where the mine will operate is prime spawning territory for Atlantic salmon, he said. Beyond that, there’s concern for the potential failure of the tailings pond during a heavy rain storm.

“That’s happened here in Canada at (Mount Polley, an open pit copper and gold mine in B.C.),” said Beaver, referring to the 2014 breach of the tailings pond at the Imperial Metals-owned Mount Polley mine.

“And those tailings ended up in the Fraser River ,which was 50 kilometres away. This mine is just one kilometre from our river.”

The struggle between the mining company and the salmon association is for the hearts and minds of the district.

The mining company has made presentations to the community that includes information on job creation, how they will protect the river from contamination and rehabilitation of the site when they leave. They’ve also set up a community liaison committee.

The minutes for the first meeting of that committee posted on Atlantic Gold’s website show it being composed of eight community members and four representatives from the company.

At that meeting the members received an orientation on how “to communicate information with the public and how to deal with media inquiries,” amongst other items.

An action item that came out of it was for a tour of the Touquoy mine in Moose River.

“I would encourage anyone from the area to do that whether they are in favour of the mine or oppose it,” said Coun. Smith, who is a member of the committee.

The company plans to file its impact assessment early next year as part of the federal environmental approval process and wants to start construction in 2021. The mine would enter production in 2022 and operate for six years.

Meanwhile, the community is educating itself.

Stephen Flemming, executive director of Sherbrooke Village, has taken on the task of organizing community information sessions on the proposed mine and others like it.

“It will take a little time, but our role as a Museum is to facilitate people better understanding the issues,” said Flemming.

Asked if he thought the decision on whether the mine goes ahead is ultimately up to the community, he responded, “I think in a democracy there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion.”