A Nova Scotia gold mine is going ahead after a court ruled the province can expropriate the property of the last resident holding out.
Atlantic Gold, an Australian company, plans to start a $140 million open-pit gold mine in Moose River Gold Mines. The project affects 72 parcels of land and the company reached agreements with all but one of the owners.
Ernest Higgins held out for seven years. The company offered $300,000 for the seven-acre property, but the family declined to sell.
The Dexter government intervened in 2012 and issued a rare expropriation order forcing the sale. Nova Scotia's Supreme Court upheld the ruling on Monday. The decision confirms the Crown owns and controls the rights to develop minerals underground, regardless of who owns the property on the surface.
Development starting this year
Wally Bucknell of Atlantic Gold flew back to Australia Tuesday with the news that the Touquoy Gold Project can proceed.
"We anticipate by the end of the year there will be active site development," he said. "It’s satisfying for us in that this is the last of 63 private land owners. It was the only one to appeal. It represents only one per cent, but it was essential to the project."
Atlantic Gold says the mine will employ 150 people and extract 85,000 ounces of gold a year for at least five years. The annual payroll is estimated at $13 million.
Charlie Parker, Nova Scotia’s minister for natural resources, said the case was bigger than one family against one company.
"I’m pleased with the judge’s decision," he said Tuesday. "It really might have had some wider implications and perhaps sets a precedent in that regard."
Family plans appeal
The court found the property had long been in the family. It was most recently used to store agricultural equipment and had no electrical services.
Higgins operates a Christmas tree business on the hundreds of acres he owns in the area.
"It is not at all clear how substantial or crucial this 7.2 acre parcel of land was to the Appellant’s Christmas tree operations. Aside from the old farm house, the 7.2 acres is a partially wooded area," the court found.
Higgins based his case on what he saw as "the fundamental aspect of the right to land ownership in this country," the ruling reads.
But the right to own land is trumped only by "the state's right to expropriate," it said.
Atlantic Gold said it will seek industrial approval and project financing.
The Higgins family said it will appeal the decision to a higher court.