Chronicle Herald - Opinion

Atlantic Gold can’t be trusted to run a mine

Kris Hunter, ASF Director of Nova Scotia Programs

Jul 11, 2019
Time has passed, and hopefully tempers have cooled, since the infamous Atlantic Gold meeting on May 23 in Sherbrooke. I was there to learn about the firm’s waste management plan for its proposed Cochrane Hill gold mine and saw John Perkins, a citizen in attendance, being singled out by company staff and manhandled by an RCMP officer for no good reason. (The company later apologized.)

Sadly, it’s not the first time Atlantic Gold has shown disregard for the rights and concerns of Nova Scotians. I saw this first-hand during my time with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA). We were dealing with the same company, on a different project: the proposed Beaver Dam open-pit mine close to Sheet Harbour. Plans show that the company’s works would butt up against the Killag River, a major tributary of the West River, and home to the best salmon habitat in the watershed.

Since the early 2000s, NSSA has raised millions of dollars from governments, corporations and individuals for work on the West River. It’s become an international showcase for river restoration, especially when it comes to repairing long-term acid-rain damage. The Beaver Dam project has the ability to undo all this work, yet the salmon conservation community has largely been ignored during the project review.

In an act of good faith, NSSA handed Atlantic Gold more than $60,000 worth of environmental monitoring data to help fill important knowledge gaps in its regulatory filings. The information was happily used, but the company still has not meaningfully engaged with NSSA.

The potential to undo


Maybe Atlantic Gold is so riled at the sight of opponents, and dismissive of groups asking questions, because the risk-reward calculations for its projects don’t make sense.

Take Cochrane Hill on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, for example. The mine is forecast to have a six- to eight-year productive life. It will require the rerouting of a public highway and expropriation of conservation lands. Once it’s mined out, the legacy will be acid-filled tailings ponds that require management in perpetuity. It only takes one extreme weather event or engineering mistake to cause a catastrophe. Climate change increases this risk.

Like the West River, the St. Mary’s is treasured for its wilderness and wildlife. It is the site of a significant restoration effort led by the St. Mary’s River Association, which invested $1.1 million over the last five years in habitat improvement. In May, Ottawa announced an additional $1.2 million for the St. Mary’s to address, among other things, acidification.

Atlantic Gold’s proposed mine has the potential to undo all this good work.

The takedown of John Perkins, the superficial answers given to the St. Mary’s River Association and the dismissal of NSSA amount to a failure on the part of Atlantic Gold, elected governments and the environmental assessment process itself.

The purpose of environmental assessment is to ensure that benefits of a project outweigh the inevitable harm and major risks. It is the company’s chance to demonstrate the good of its work to the public and build trust with local communities.

Assessment just a hurdle


Unfortunately, the actions of Atlantic Gold indicate the company sees environmental assessment as nothing more than a frivolous, bureaucratic hurdle to be cleared. Companies with capacity and intelligence see it differently. They know that social licence is as important as raising capital, and a lack of either is a recipe for failure.

Given Atlantic Gold’s unwillingness to engage with concerned Nova Scotians, and given the short life and location of their projects, ASF stands with the St. Mary’s River Association and the NSSA in opposition to the Beaver Dam and Cochrane Hill mine proposals.

If the Sherbrooke incident is how the firm treats citizens in full public view, how can it be trusted to follow the rules behind a gold mine’s locked gates?

Kris Hunter is the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s regional program director for Nova Scotia and P.E.I. He served for more than a decade as a volunteer director with the NSSA, most recently as president. He is also a former volunteer with the St. Mary’s River Association.

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/local-perspectives/opinion-atlantic-gold-cant-be-trusted-to-run-a-mine-331261/

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