ST. MARY’S – The CEO of Australian gold mining company St Barbara is lauding a “new collaborative approach” with the Nova Scotia government for the company’s plans in the province, including a current application to raise the tailings dam wall at the Touquoy mine in Moose River.
St Barbara’s Atlantic operations also has its sights set on three new mine developments, tentatively scheduled to come on line over the next five years – in Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream in eastern Halifax Regional Municipality and at Cochrane Hill, just outside Sherbrooke in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s. All three require various levels of environmental permitting before they can proceed – the last at Cochrane Hill not scheduled for production before 2026.
Craig Jetson, CEO and managing partner of the Perth-based enterprise – with annual revenues exceeding $500 million US – made the statement about the new relationship with the provincial government in his fourth quarter report to shareholders (ending June 30, 2022) last week, following face-to-face meetings he’d had with Premier Tim Houston and Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman this spring.
“The discussions with both Mr. Houston and Mr. Halman centred around the permitting challenges the company has faced and how Atlantic operations can work more collaboratively with government throughout the permitting process in Nova Scotia,” Jetson stated. “Following these discussions, a new collaborative approach has commenced which has resulted in the company being able to submit multiple permits at once.”
Crucially, he added, two recent permits for an ammonia treatment plant and waste rock storage “provide encouragement that this new collaborative approach, which is also being applied to our permit application to the raise the Tailings Management Facility (TMF), will result in a positive outcome.”
In June, St Barbara announced that it may be forced to shut down its near-capacity operations at Touquoy as soon as mid-August, if the province didn’t allow a stop-gap measure to raise the height of the wall it used to contain the mine’s waste. The mine’s closure would affect 350 employees and potentially disrupt the company’s plans for future operations everywhere in the province.
In a statement to The Journal last week, St Barbara Atlantic Operations Communications Consultant Sarah Brennan confirmed “ongoing engagement with provincial regulators … following [the] discussions [with Houston and Halman],” but added, “As with all other applications submitted to provincial regulators, the [TMF] application is being discussed between technical experts with St Barbara and Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change … No timeline for a final determination has been determined.”
According to Department of Environment and Climate Change Director of Communications Elizabeth MacDonald, it’s business as usual regarding St Barbara.
“We don’t have a decision date yet, but Department staff are working on it, and our service standard is to make decisions on applications as quickly as possible while ensuring due diligence,” she told The Journal in an email last week.
“Our relationship with Atlantic Gold is no different than our relationship with any other applicant. We are the steward of the environmental regulatory process, and as such, make the best-informed decisions possible for our environment and for Nova Scotians when we receive applications.”
She added: “As the neutral, steward of the environmental regulatory process, we work closely with all vested parties to make informed decisions on applications for environmental approvals—this is our job. Environment and Climate Change’s role, as the environmental regulator, is to listen to, and work with the Mi’kmaq; and with stakeholders, including Nova Scotians, municipalities, environmental protection organizations, businesses, industry associations and others, to allow for sustainable development and protection of our environment.”
But in a news release last week, Ecology Action Centre Wilderness Outreach Coordinator Karen McKendry stated that Atlantic Gold’s TMF application and the review process “raise major concerns with respect to safety and lack of transparency. Globally, there are many examples of tailings dams failing … resulting in the obliteration and contamination of watercourses, groundwater and wildlife [and] jeopardizing … people. The proposed modification to raise the tailings dam wall at the Touquoy mine should go through the environmental assessment process, complete with a public comment period.”
In an interview with The Journal, she added: “I believe first and foremost… the role of the department [Environment and Climate Change] is to [deliver] effective and efficient regulatory management of the environment.”
MacDonald verified that the Touquoy mine can continue to operate under its existing approvals. “Nova Scotia’s natural resources sectors provide jobs and economic opportunities in rural areas of the province, and produce commodities that are in demand globally by industries and consumers,” she said.
According to St Barbara’s latest fourth-quarter report, gold production at Touquoy increased by 64 per cent over the year-earlier period. For the year ending June 30, 2021, the Atlantic operations posted an operating profit of $26 million on revenue of $144 million.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal