CBC News - Nova Scotia

Philanthropist Paul Sobey slams 'mind-boggling' gold mine plan in pristine area

May 30, 2019
St. Mary's River in northeast Nova Scotia has an important Atlantic salmon population that has a new restoration plan. Tom Moffatt/ASF
Despite promises of jobs and economic prosperity, a member of one of Nova Scotia's most prominent business families and a major land conservation donor is adamantly opposed to a proposed open pit mine in Guysborough County.

Atlantic Gold is hoping to dig the mine near the St. Mary's River, north of Sherbrooke. The Nova Scotia Nature Trust owns 600 hectares of land in the area, part of which — 93 hectares — was donated by Paul and Marsha Sobey, and David and Faye Sobey.

The gold mining company came under fire recently after a Nova Scotia man was roughly arrested at a public meeting with Atlantic Gold, seemingly without reason. Raw video of John Perkins arrest spread like wildfire on social media, eliciting public outcry.

If the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine goes ahead, the company plans to build a paved road over part of one parcel of the Nature Trust's land — and none of that sits well with Paul Sobey.

"It'll definitely, in my opinion, destroy one of the most pristine areas in our province," he said, citing concerns about the impact of blasting and contamination on the land and river system.

"It will impact all the Eastern Shore all the way up to Sheet Harbour. And it's mind boggling."

Sobey, who retired in 2013 as president and CEO of Empire Co., the parent company of Canadian grocery giant Sobeys, says he doesn't believe Atlantic Gold will have enough economic impact in the area to justify the open pit mine.

Atlantic Gold spokesman Dustin O'Leary says the company's Moose River Mine employs over 280 Nova Scotians and another 200 indirect jobs have been created as a result of the operation.

He said the Cochrane Hill mine will provide local residents and the community "with hundreds of high-paying skilled and unskilled jobs."

The company said in a statement it can build the road and install the mine without causing damage to the surrounding area.

"Atlantic Gold recognizes that the St. Mary's River watershed is an ecologically significant area. The protection of the river is top-of-mind for Atlantic Gold. We have retained world class scientists and engineers to conduct studies on valued components of the ecosystem in and around Cochrane Hill," reads the statement.

"Atlantic Gold can point to its Touquoy Mine, which has been successfully operating in an environmentally sensitive area near Middle Musquodoboit since 2017 and has an excellent record regarding environmental protection."

Bonnie Sutherland, executive director of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, said there's a lot at stake, calling the St. Mary's River an "ecologically significant place."

"There's sort of a whole range of of exciting biodiversity features that are all found on the St. Mary's River and so what some of these protected areas provide are some of the last old-growth forests in Nova Scotia and some of the very last intact Acadian floodplain forests in Nova Scotia," she said.

Bonnie Sutherland is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"And together they protect habitat for some of Canada's most endangered species: endangered wood turtles and a whole range of bird species that are at risk of extinction, and Atlantic salmon."

She said the proposed mine directly impacts the nature trust property, as does the proposed road.

"[That] means chopping down trees and paving the nature trust-protected lands."


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