Some residents of the Nashwaak Valley are pressing the Department of Environment and Local Government to step up its regulation of the river in the area around a proposed mining project.
Northcliff Resources Ltd. is proposing an open-pit mine near Stanley, which could attract millions of dollars in investment and create hundreds of jobs.
But many residents in the area are worried about the environmental impact of the tungsten and molybdenum mining project.
Several local associations thought they had persuaded the provincial government to designate the Nashwaak River as a Class A watercourse, which would protect it from any new sources of pollution, about a decade ago.
Lawrence Wuest said local residents were surprised when they learned of the plans for a tungsten mine in the watershed.
"People began to ask questions and found out that the classification had not been finalized, it was not entrenched in the regulation," he said.
Last July, Environment Minister Bruce Fitch wrote to residents to say he can't classify the river because the regulations are vague and unenforceable.
But Fitch told residents in the letter he was reviewing the province's system for classifying rivers.
Wuest said Fitch's promised review of the river classification is taking too long.
"They all say, `We're working on it, the government's working on this.' It's my view that successive governments view this regulation as an impediment to their designs on promoting mineral and petroleum exploration," Wuest said.
Fitch's office said the environment minister was not available for an interview but that rivers and watersheds are well protected under a variety of laws and regulations.
The mining companies say in publicly filed documents they will comply with environmental regulations, but that some "scientific uncertainties" remain surrounding water treatment.
The Sisson Project has been undergoing environmental assessments since 2011.
According to the New Brunswick government’s website, Northcliff Resources filed an environmental impact assessment for the molybdenum and tungsten mine on Sept. 5, 2008. The website says the government is "awaiting additional information."
On March 13, Northcliff Resources released a statement saying it had filed a technical report associated with a feasibility study. The company says the development could be worth $579 million.
Chris Zahovskis, the chief executive officer of Northcliff Resources, said in a Jan. 29, 2013, statement the mine's life would be 27 years and it could create more than 300 jobs.
The company also said as many as 500 workers would be hired during the two-year construction phase.
The company says the Sisson Project will generate $19.5 million annually in provincial tax revenues.
If approved, the mining company would like to start construction in 2014 and have the mine operational in 2016.