Chronicle Herald

Atlantic Gold mine decision to be based on science, says federal fisheries minister

Aaron Beswick

May 21, 2019
Standing by the St. Mary’s River two weeks ago, federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said whether Atlantic Gold gets to build a mine along it will be a decision based on science.

“I would say there are lots of mines that discharge into aquatic environments now,” Wilkinson told The Chronicle Herald.

“The question would be whether this one poses particular problems. It could be on a general basis, it could be how they’re actually treating their water. It’s a decision that will be made based upon the science.”

A few days later, Vancouver-based Atlantic Gold was bought by Australian mining company St. Barbara Ltd. in a $722-million deal that saw shareholders get paid $2.90 a share — a 38 per cent premium on the going rate.

About a quarter of the gold reserves St. Barbara bought for that hefty sum are in Cochrane Hill, about a kilometre up river from where Wilkinson was announcing $1.2 million for the St. Mary’s River Association’s work restoring habitat.

According to the company, there are 513,000 ounces of proven and probable reserves in the hill worth $810 million, based on the $1,580 an ounce it has been getting at its Touquoy mine in the Moose River area.

The mine’s total footprint, including storage for removed overburden, tailings ponds, offices, heavy equipment and roads, would be 241 hectares and would encompasse a former underground gold mine that operated until 1922.

Those, along with the nearly 200 jobs the company aims to create over the mine’s eight-year life expectancy, are big numbers in a district that, according to the 2016 census, had a median income of just more than $27,663 a year (the provincial median income was $31,833).

It’s all going to land back on Wilkinson’s desk as the project description Atlantic Gold filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency predicts it will have to seek a Fisheries Act exemption to Section 35, which prohibits a proponent from causing “serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery.”

That requires an approval from the minister, who came to Sherbrooke to announce money that will primarily be spent on a liming project to reduce the affects of a century of acid rain on the St. Mary’s River.

“Yes, there’s irony,” said Scott Beaver, president of the association that received the funding and has been campaigning against the Cochrane Hill open-pit mine.

“Can we not have some pristine areas left in Nova Scotia?”

Atlantic Gold provided a written response stating: “We believe the proposed Cochrane Hill project is an important part of ensuring the long-term economic success in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s and surrounding areas. Atlantic Gold is proposing to bring hundreds of well-paid, skilled and unskilled jobs to an area of the province that needs growth — and we plan to do it in an open, transparent and environmentally responsible way. As important as Cochrane Hill is for Atlantic Gold, we believe it’s just as important for the success of the Eastern Shore region of Nova Scotia.”

The company has opened a community liaison office in Sherbrooke that was greeted by dozens of protesters from around the province last month.

Atlantic Gold spokesman Dustin O’Leary said the purchase by St. Barbara won’t affect progress on its Nova Scotia mining program.

“They are pleased with our operations at the Moose River mine and fully committed to the permitting processes for Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mile Stream and Cochrane Hill,” said O’Leary.

The company plans to file its environmental impact statement with the federal regulator early this fall.

After reviewing the environmental impact statement, what its heard during multiple community meetings and an independent socioeconomic analysis it has commissioned, the St. Mary’s municipal council plans to take a public position on whether it supports or opposes the project.

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