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Protest held in Cape Breton over safety concerns near Donkin mine

Catherine Fergusson of the Cow Bay Coalition helped organize a protest on Highway 4 in Reserve Mines, N.S., to bring attention to the number of trucks on public roads hauling coal from the Donkin mine. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Catherine Fergusson of the Cow Bay Coalition helped organize a protest on Highway 4 in Reserve Mines, N.S., to bring attention to the number of trucks on public roads hauling coal from the Donkin mine. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

A dozen people who live near Cape Breton's Donkin mine protested on Friday along the route trucks use when hauling coal from the area.

They say the trucks create unsafe conditions for drivers, pedestrians and the environment.

"Lots of people are honking and waving," said protest organizer Catherine Fergusson. "It's interesting because you can see the look on their face. Once they see the sign and know what we're doing, their faces light up."

Fergusson and members of the Cow Bay Coalition — a community group based in Port Morien, N.S., that is upset with the effects of the Donkin mine — were on Highway 4 in Reserve Mines at noon, waving signs and attracting the attention of motorists.

Several trucks with beds designed to haul coal and belonging to a company that has had a contract to carry product from the mine to Sydney harbour and to Nova Scotia Power's Lingan station passed by the protesters over the span of half an hour.

Fergusson said two honked at the protesters and one drove through a red light.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

She said the trucks create road hazards, damage the surface and spread diesel fumes and coal dust.

In addition, the Donkin mine's workplace safety citations are a concern, Fergusson said.

But she also recognizes there are people who want the mine open.

"We need jobs," Fergusson said. "Jobs are really important in this area. But our jobs need to be safe."

In 2020, the mine built a new road from Brookside Street to Highway 4 to divert traffic from large residential areas near Glace Bay and Reserve Mines.

However, it has never opened because the province needs to install traffic controls at the intersections where the road becomes public.

Calls for province to address concerns

Fergusson said if that road opens, it will help, but it won't do anything for people around Donkin and Port Morien.

"It would solve some of the residents' concerns who are on that section of the road," she said.

"However, they need to actually have their own transportation system from their gate to the port."

Fergusson is calling on the province to provide better oversight to address residents' concerns.

"Our government is the regulator and they need to do their job to ensure that safety for the community, the workers and the environment come first."

The trucks run through Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier MLA Kendra Coombes's constituency on their way to Lingan or the shipping pier in Sydney.

Public Works says trucks have no significant impact on roads

She said she regularly hears complaints.

"These residents are doing the right thing in that they're bringing attention to this ... to see if something can be worked out."

In an email, the Public Works Department said the trucks have no significant impact on public roads.

It also said work is expected to begin this summer to open the new haul road and reduce the traffic on public roads.

Mine owner Kameron Coal did not respond to requests for comment.

The Cow Bay Coalition is organizing a community meeting to address the issues on Sunday, March 26 from 2-4 p.m. at the Port Morien Legion.

Sierra Club appeal

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club of Canada's Atlantic chapter has filed an appeal of the Donkin mine's industrial approval with the provincial environment department.

Environment Minister Tim Halman was not available for comment on Thursday, but the province said a decision on the appeal will be released April 3.

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