Environment advocacy groups in Nova Scotia are disappointed a proposed gold mine in Guysborough County is moving forward following the approval of a two-pit gold mine project on Tuesday by the province.
Environment Minister Tim Halman announced the project would be getting the green light under several conditions, saying that he was "satisfied" that any adverse effects to the environment would be mitigated through compliance with the terms of the agreement.
Those terms include the development of a wildlife management plan with the provincial Departments of Natural Resources and Environment and Climate Change and implementing a complaint resolution process to receive and respond to concerns about the project.
Some of the province's environment advocacy groups are not happy about the decision, though. Karen McKendry, the wilderness outreach co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, said in an interview Wednesday that Halman's decision "shouldn't be happening in this day and age."
"Nova Scotia already has a large open-pit gold mine on the Eastern Shore and this is another one proposed," McKendry said. "The one in Goldboro would actually … mine for years, which leaves behind a huge contaminated site and leads to lots of trucking and diesel fuel use and is very polluting, to line the pockets and the coffers of people to make them richer and returns very little, if anything, to Nova Scotia."
In her opinion, McKendry said the approval represented the government's buckling to pressure from the gold mining industry. She also spoke of potential arsenic contamination in waterways and across the wetlands in the area, which she called the province's "kidneys."
"Those (wetlands) are needed for cleaning our water, for carbon capture," she said. "(They're) one of the last refuges for the endangered mainland moose, and so this project, like many others, proposes to destroy dozens and dozens of wetlands, including ones with species at risk in them."
The environmental effects of gold mining in the province have long been debated, particularly in the Goldboro area, which has an extensive history of mining and arsenic and mercury contamination. McKendry said in Nova Scotia, the rock that gold occurs in also has within it a substantial amount of arsenic. When the rock is brought to the surface and the gold is extracted, the rock that remains needs to be contained so there's no chance of polluting waterways and groundwater, she added.
'Happy' with the approval, company says
Signal Gold wants to develop the mine. The project includes two open pits, a processing facility, a tailings management facility, waste rock storage areas, as well as water management infrastructure such as collection ditches, culverts, settling ponds and water treatment systems.
Robert Dufour, the chief financial officer of Signal Gold, said the company is quite happy with the result.
"We were certainly confident starting the process that we had put together a very comprehensive environmental assessment," he said. "It's always exciting when you get that approval."
Dufour said Signal Gold is still reviewing the conditions that came with the approval, but said there was nothing insurmountable.
The company must obtain an industrial approval and make a Crown lease application before construction can begin. Dufour said Signal anticipates construction will begin either in late 2023 or early 2024.
Warden Vernon Pitts of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough also expressed his anticipation for the project and what it could mean for the growth of the county.
"Our population has been falling off the last number of years. We have some residents here that can work at mining, they've done it in the past, and we're looking forward to some new residents moving in, setting down roots," he said. "They'll utilize our services, our schools, and it's a win-win situation for everyone."
He said the hope is that as the mining in the area picks up, other businesses — such as welding or fabrication — will become established, creating more opportunities for residents once the mining is complete.
Madeline Conacher is with the group Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia, which advocates for environmentally sustainable, locally-driven development and has opposed other gold mine proposals for the Eastern Shore.
Like McKendry, Conacher said she's disappointed the government approved the proposal.
"Sadly, what I find with almost all of the politicians is that they go for the short-term economic benefits and they just don't even look at any of the environmental concerns," she said. "They're just hoodwinked by the promise of all those jobs, and they're keeping their fingers crossed that nothing will go wrong."
In her comments on the company's environmental assessment, Conacher expressed concerns about the potential harms from mine tailings, the depletion of aquifers, infilling, pollution and the impact on the climate and biodiversity.
A total of 48 organizations and people — aside from federal and provincial departments — responded to requests for feedback on the environmental assessment.
Many — including several form letters — were positive about the potential impact of the project on the economy and job prospects. Others raised a wide variety of concerns about the environmental consequences of the project.
A letter from the Native Council of Nova Scotia notes concerns about the alteration and destruction of wetlands and the possibility that the mine could encourage the establishment of invasive species in the area.
The Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative noted a number of environmental concerns in its feedback on the proposal, and also mentioned that the company's plan has "little to no mention of the Mi'kmaw, two-eyed seeing or traditional use and harvesting." The organization also expressed concern about the potential for cumulative environmental effects of the project in conjunction with other proposals in the area.
Pieridae Energy has proposed a liquefied natural gas project for the Goldboro area, and Atlantic Gold has proposed three other gold mines for the Eastern Shore.
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