Public comments on proposed N.S. gold mine overwhelmingly negative

·5 min read
Atlantic Gold wants to develop an open-pit gold mine about 30 kilometres north of Sheet Harbour, N.S. This photo shows blasting that took place when the company's Touquoy mine was being developed in Moose River, N.S.  (Submitted by Atlantic Gold Corp. - image credit)
Atlantic Gold wants to develop an open-pit gold mine about 30 kilometres north of Sheet Harbour, N.S. This photo shows blasting that took place when the company's Touquoy mine was being developed in Moose River, N.S. (Submitted by Atlantic Gold Corp. - image credit)

Of the 117 comments submitted to the government recently about a proposed gold mine on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore, just one was unequivocally in favour of the project.

Almost all of the other commenters were squarely opposed to Atlantic Gold's Fifteen Mile Stream proposal, which would see a 400-hectare open-pit mine developed in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary, about 30 kilometres north of Sheet Harbour, N.S.

As part of a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment of the project, people were invited to respond to the company's environmental impact statement. Atlantic Gold's 5,000-page document presents the company's perspective on how the mine would affect the environment and how it proposes to mitigate those effects.

The one positive comment, from Nick MacGregor of MacGregors Industrial Group in New Glasgow, N.S., notes he is "strongly in favour" of the mine, citing its potential economic benefits.

"It is critical for there to be a balance between supporting economic growth and ensuring environmental sustainability," MacGregor writes.

"Without a healthy and active economy, particularly in our rural areas, there are simply far less financial resources available to support environmental improvement projects such as renewable energy, water treatment, wildlife sanctuaries and more."

Atlantic Gold's Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, N.S., is the only operating gold mine in the province.
Atlantic Gold's Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, N.S., is the only operating gold mine in the province.(Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The proposed mine is projected to operate for seven years and employ 200 people, according to the company.

No one from Atlantic Gold was made available for an interview about the comments last week.

But in an emailed statement, spokesperson Dustin O'Leary said, "We don't necessarily believe that the level of questions of concern that have come forward are an indication of local support for or against the project, however, we do look forward to providing answers to all questions presented as the approvals process continues."

The site would include open pits, stockpiles, material storage, crushing and concentrator facilities, water management and treatment infrastructure, mine haul roads and a tailings management facility.

Ore from the Fifteen Mile Stream mine would be crushed on the site, and concentrate would then be trucked to Atlantic Gold's mine in Moose River, N.S., about 75 kilometres away, for further processing.

Environmental concerns

In the company's environmental impact statement, Atlantic Gold concludes the project will not cause significant adverse environmental effects once mitigation measures are in place.

But many commenters dispute that.

Individual Nova Scotians wrote to share their worries about the potential impacts on biodiversity, wildlife, water, wetlands, at-risk species and many other aspects of the environment.

"Please do not allow this gold mine to go ahead," wrote one person.

"Gold mines are well known to generate highly toxic waste, which inevitably pollutes watersheds, water sources, soil, flora and fauna in the area and are incredibly disruptive to the biosphere. At a time when we must safeguard our natural environment, allowing projects such as this is antithetical to that mandate."

The Touquoy gold mine opened in 2017.
The Touquoy gold mine opened in 2017.(Raymond Plourde/Ecology Action Centre)

"I am strongly opposed to this project," wrote another person. "Nova Scotia has a finite amount of untouched wilderness and we are destroying it with projects like this. This is not a permanent source of jobs and income, it is temporary."

A third person commented, "I live close to the proposed site, on Highway 7, and I can't bear the thought of this project coming to fruition. One of the reasons I moved home to [Nova Scotia] was because of the natural, untapped beauty of this part of the province. If the gold mine is approved, Highway 7 will be a nightmare to live and commute on."

Some spoke up with concerns about the company's track record, as it is facing 32 environmental charges in relation to activities at its Touquoy mine and the Fifteen Mile Stream site.

Others were worried that the project, located where contamination from a historical mine persists to this day, will disturb toxic material and release it into the environment.

The proposed mine is in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary, which is habitat for the endangered mainland moose population.
The proposed mine is in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary, which is habitat for the endangered mainland moose population.(CBC)

Many environmental groups also weighed in, including the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, salmon and bird groups, Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia, East Coast Environmental Law, the Ecology Action Centre and the Sierra Club.

Some of the concerns raised by those groups include the possibility of a tailings dam failure, the impact of the company's plan to move a brook, the climate change effects of trucking ore to Moose River and the impact of the project on the endangered mainland moose, which lives in the area.

The Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council and the Kwilmu'kw Maw-Klusuaqn Negotiation Office wrote with detailed critiques of the company's analysis, both concluding that the project would affect Mi'kmaq access to the land and resources.

Government feedback

A handful of government departments provided feedback as well, including Transport Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Several noted deficiencies in the information provided by the company, including its studies and analysis.

Health Canada, for instance, noted that the company may have underestimated the potential health risks of the project for food, air quality, drinking water and recreational water quality.

Natural Resources Canada asked questions about the adequacy of the proposed mitigation measures related to arsenic and acid-generating rock. Fisheries and Oceans Canada requested more information about the project's impact on fish and fish habitat.

An earlier version of the company's environmental impact statement did not meet federal requirements, and the government put its assessment of the project on hold until it was resubmitted.

Atlantic Gold says it will commission the studies required to answer the questions that were received. The company aims to submit those answers later this year.

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