New Brunswick

New Brunswick landowners seethe over plans to allow prospectors on private property

Province government is trying to change the Mining Act to allow prospectors access to any property on which they’ve made a mineral rights claim and start digging without asking the owner's permission.

Farmers' group says move comes as a shock as there was no consultation

Several drilling sites in southern New Brunswick have already revealed a number of gold deposits below the surface. Landowners aren't happy about changes to the mining act that will prospectors to start shallow digging without the need to tell the landlord. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

The New Brunswick government has proposed changes to the Mining Act that would allow prospectors access to any property on which they've made a mineral rights claim and let them dig without notifying the landowner or asking  permission. 

The bill has some landowners and a farmers' group seething.

"This change makes me quite upset," said John Detorakis, owner of Canada Green Nursery and Garden Centre in the southwestern New Brunswick community of St. George. 

Detorakis was stunned last year when he found out his farm was a part of a mineral rights claim by a Montreal mining company looking for gold.

John Detorakis says he's not happy about proposed changes to the Mining Act that will affect his farm. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

In New Brunswick, as in much of the rest of the country, the Crown owns the minerals on or under any property, and leases those mineral rights to prospectors and mining companies. Currently, the province's Mining Act requires landowners to be notified before any digging can start, but landowners must allow access. 

Detorakis fought the claim against his property because he was not notified by the mining company. He filed a complaint to the mining commissioner and won.

According to that decision from May 2021, mining companies cannot start exploring for minerals on a farm without first obtaining consent. 

Search for gold in southern New Brunswick worries farmers

2 years ago
Duration 5:55
Farmers who thought a provincial program protected their land were shocked the government leased the rights to the minerals underneath.

Now the province is trying to change the act by adding wording that, if passed, would effectively counter Detorakis's win last year. It would allow prospectors to start shallow digging on private property with hand tools, provided they have a mineral rights claim. 

Bill 75 has already passed through committee and first and second reading. The third and final reading is expected to pass this spring. 

Last year, a 20-page decision by mining commissioner Michel Poirier ruled this type of mining activity would cause damage.

Landowners caught off guard

The Agriculture Alliance of New Brunswick is also not happy with the changes.

The organization said it appears the Department of Natural Resources was trying to slip the change by the farmers' group and is ignoring its requests for more information. 

"Absolutely no consultation," said Christian Michaud, president of the alliance and a farmer himself. "No heads up to what this could mean at all. That is the scary part."

He said his group learned about the bill in the news media.

John Detorakis says this photo showing shallow digging by a hand-held auger was used as an exhibit during his hearing by the mining commissioner last year. He says it's the type of digging that would be allowed without landowner's consent if Mining Act amendments pass. (Submitted by John Detorakis)

Michaud described his reaction as "shock."

"Basically, they're going to have the right to come in and take samples without us knowing even that they're there," he said.

"It's just not very responsible to go through all this process without having consultations with the people that it's going to affect the most." 

CBC News requested an interview with Mike Holland, the natural resources minister, about landowners' concerns. The department sent an email instead. 

CBC News requested an interview with New Brunswick Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland, but got an email from the department instead. (CBC)

"The purpose of Bill 75 is to clarify the type of activities and in fact puts in place strict limitations so that both landowners and prospectors know what to expect," department spokesperson Jason Hoyt wrote.

He said the legislation requires a landowner's consent if the prospecting activity would cause actual damage to the land or interfere with the enjoyment of it.

"The amendment to the act would no longer consider digging and sampling land by hand, or with hand tools like augers and rock hammers, as 'actual damage.'"

Green response

Green Party Leader David Coon, who said he suffered headaches after prospectors staked a mineral claim on his farm in Charlotte County years ago, called Holland's bill extraordinary. 

There's little that can be done to keep the Progressive Conservative government from passing the bill, he said, although he added it could easily be undone by a future government.

Green Party Leader David Coon says the New Brunswick government needs to exclude farmlands from mineral claims much like it does nature preserves. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Coon accused the government of trying to slip it under the door by saying it was just making clarifications in the law.

"Well, yeah, they're clarifying all right — to counter, or neuter, the mining commissioner's decision for other farmers," he said.

"No one … likes the idea that someone can just wander onto your land without permission."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

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