SHERBROOKE – With a new letter-writing campaign and website, the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) is taking direct aim at Atlantic Gold’s bid for an open pit mine at an environmentally sensitive site northeast of Sherbrooke.
The public relations push, announced last week, is designed to kick start the certification of Archibald Lake as a provincially protected wilderness area – a move that, if successful, could undermine Atlantic Gold’s prospects for mineral extraction in the area.
“Our campaign is focused on stopping a gold mine next to the St. Mary’s River before it even starts,” SMRA President Scott Beaver said in an email. “We say ‘nope’ to Atlantic Gold’s idea of a gold mine next to our river. The measure of success is whether the mine project goes forward.”
Beaver said the certification process has been jammed in “legal limbo” since Archibald Lake’s potential protection was announced in September 2019. At that time, Nova Scotia Environment agreed to consider reclassifying 684 hectares of woodlands, lakes and several small wetlands in the area, which provide homes and habitats for old-forest and aquatic species of wildlife, but its prescriptions were murky.
While the department stated that Atlantic Gold’s proposed use of the lake as source of fresh water for mineral extraction “cannot be permitted,” if the designation proceeds, it also stipulated that about 10 hectares around the body “is subject to mineral exploration rights, [which] can be honoured under the Act, provided activities do not degrade the wilderness.”
Last October, the province expanded its inventory of protected land along the St. Mary’s River valley with a new provincial park, but pointedly left Archibald Lake out of the mix, stating that it needed “additional time before making a decision on its protection.”
Said Beaver: “Most sites proceed to designation not long after consultations, but this one seems stuck. We’ve redoubled our efforts to speak up for this special site because it’s time to move it along and keep building the awesome series of protected areas we have along the St. Mary's River.”
The new campaign features the webpage, “Support Designation of Archibald Lake Wilderness Area,” calling on visitors to virtually sign and send a letter urging the provincial government to act:
“I know your government is committed to charting an ecologically sustainable future for Nova Scotia, and that increasing protected areas is a key part of that strategy. It’s great to see so many parcels receive formal protection. But there’s one area that seems to have been forgotten in the current round of designations … The Archibald Lake Wilderness Area has waited long enough! Please ensure protection of this important part of our natural heritage.”
Said Beaver: “Many residents already understand that protected areas are assets for our community. They are the places we can count on for recreation, to clean our water, to provide habitat for wildlife, and to use for ecotourism. We hope that people who love the woods and waters of the St. Mary’s River will respond to this call to action because this next section of the ‘ribbon of green’ along the river needs an extra nudge to come to fruition.”
Despite the push for formal wilderness protection, however, Atlantic Gold appears unruffled. “St Barbara recognises and respects the environmental significance of both Archibald Lake and the St. Mary’s watershed,” the company’s Communications Manager Dustin O’Leary said in an email.
“As part of the stringent federal and provincial approvals process, we are appropriately required to provide scientific evidence to all levels of government to demonstrate that water sources can be protected before, during and after the mine life of the proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Mine operations.”
He added: “As referenced at a presentation to the St. Mary’s council in January, we look forward to submitting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine project in 2024 and meeting the stringent requirements of the environmental assessment process.”
In December, St Barbara told an investors’ meeting that its plans for Cochrane Hill had been delayed by several years due, in part, to uncertainties over a reliable source of water for mining operations in the area.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal