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Atlantic Gold’s shiny promises

Atlantic Gold’s shiny promises are mere baubles

In her March 11 opinion piece, “Nova Scotia moves goalposts in midst of environmental assessment,” Maryse Belanger, president of Australian-owned Atlantic Gold, makes some glittery claims: that her company will generate hundreds of jobs and millions in annual provincial and municipal revenues; that 80 per cent of residents in the region support the proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Mine; and that the massive open-pit mine, in the midst of the pristine Archibald Lake Wilderness Area, will do no long-term environmental harm.

Such shiny promises, however, are not supported by the facts.

As history has shown, gold mines have a short, highly destructive life-span, averaging only about five to seven years of production. This “boom and bust” industry thus cannot hope to support our small Nova Scotia communities long-term, if at all. Typically, the only people who stand to really benefit are the company’s investors — often at the expense of entire communities.

For example, according to CBC News correspondent Frances Willick, the Touquoy mine in Moose River only generated $2.5 million in royalties for the province between 2017 and 2019, any tax revenue being offset by pre-production losses, plus a $1.17-million fuel tax rebate. Compare this to the $2.6 billion in revenues from the tourism industry in 2018 alone.

For the Moose River community, this meagre provincial revenue must be leveraged against:

  • the permanent, irreparable damage to over 250 hectares of local countryside;
  • the damage to roadways and increased hazard posed by the heavy mining trucks on local roads;
  • the risk to both human health and the environment posed by the mine’s toxic dust, plus the harmful chemicals leached into the rivers and ground-water;
  • the diminished quality of life for the residents owing to the air, light, and noise pollution, plus
  • the stress of having a formidable, unsightly mine in their midst;
  • the reduced property values and long-term degradation of the community;
  • and the lost potential to attract and hold permanent residents (including professionals and businesses) — not to mention the present and future loss of income from tourism.

According to Joan Kuyek, founder of Mining Watch Canada, and author of Unearthing Justice, one of the problems with allowing large corporations to invade small communities is the enormous power imbalance that ensues. When communities subsequently try to resist mine expansion, or oppose the company’s abuses, they often find they have little say.3

Such is shown here. Despite the fact that the Cochrane Hill mine hasn’t even been approved, Ms. Belanger has already threatened “legal remedies” should the St. Marys Municipal Council oppose it.

Not only are such bully tactics very telling, so is Ms. Belanger’s use of deception. Her claim that 80 per cent of residents in the region support the mine is indeed “eye-opening,” until one realizes that her so-called “survey” was funded by Atlantic Gold to promote its own mine. Empirical data gathered by the St. Marys Municipality reveal a different story, as evidenced by the results of the community’s own study, plus concerns expressed at public meetings.

Finally, the claim that the Archibald Lake Wilderness Area will suffer no long-term ill effects flies in the face of reason, considering that, should the mine be approved, Atlantic Gold would be permitted to drain 500,000 cubic metres from Archibald Lake to create a two-kilometre-long tailings pond, plus another 50,000 litres a day for its daily operations. Effluent from the mine could be released into McKeen Brook, contaminating the entire region with arsenic and mercury, which will inevitably leach into the ground-water. The impact of this would be both catastrophic and irreversible.5

The enormous ecological and economic importance of the St. Marys River, the longest river in Nova Scotia, cannot be overstated. Not only is this region a prime tourist destination, popular with hikers, kayakers, and sport fishermen alike, the St. Marys River is one of the last remaining spawning grounds of wild Atlantic salmon. Millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours have gone into the St. Marys River Salmon Recovery Program to restore the health of the river. As a recently released video by the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the St. Marys River Association will attest, the program has achieved considerable success. In particular, McKeen Brook, a tributary of the St. Marys, is a critical habitat for spawning salmon which must be preserved if this endangered species is to survive.

Other ways in which this region is ecologically and economically significant are:

  • it contains one of the last stands of old growth hardwood forest plus extensive riparian habitat;
  • it is a sanctuary for numerous other threatened species, such as the wood turtle, brook trout, and mainland moose;
  • it lies near the historic Sherbrooke Village, an important heritage site and tourist attraction, with a newly planned Interpretive Centre;
  • it is home to Canoe and Kayak Nova Scotia, a popular recreational paddling club which attracts thousands of visitors annually;
  • it is home to a newly founded whale sanctuary in nearby Port Hilford (only 14 kilometres from the proposed mine site);
  • it is home to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust’s “Ribbon of Green” and proposed St. Marys Provincial Park —all of which could be at risk should an open-pit mine be established in the region.

Gold mines are undeniably destructive — to the land, the water, and to the communities that surround them. They promise much, benefit few, are highly polluting, and leave a legacy of permanent devastation, the long-term effects of which cannot be measured. In this particular case, what is at stake is the very survival of wild Atlantic salmon, the loss of which cannot be calculated in dollars and cents.

It is hoped that Nova Scotia will reflect carefully on the consequences of supporting Atlantic Gold, a foreign-owned company, extracting a non-essential commodity, in a non-sustainable venture, while amassing huge profits, and externalizing many of its costs to the surrounding communities and the province.

With unspoiled wilderness areas at a premium, isn’t it time we considered investing instead in our far more lucrative, non-polluting, and completely sustainable ecotourism industry?

Ms. Belanger’s questionable promises may dazzle and tantalize, but our two-and-a-half million annual visitors can attest that our real riches lie in the beauty of our unique, untouched natural landscapes. Let’s not squander this precious legacy for one company’s voracious lust for gold.

Barbara Silburt is involved in several Nova Scotia environmental organizations.