Nova Scotia

N.S. promises priority cleanup list for abandoned mines by end of year

Senior Nova Scotia government officials have promised a prioritized cleanup list will be ready by the end of the year for 67 abandoned mine sites located on Crown land.

Of the 69 old mines identified on crown land, only 2 are currently earmarked for cleanup

Donnie Burke, executive director of environmental assessment and remediation at Nova Scotia Lands, says officials will be able to recommend the order in which the 67 abandoned mines on Crown land should be cleaned up. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Senior Nova Scotia government officials have promised a prioritized cleanup list will be ready by the end of the year for 67 abandoned mine sites located on Crown land.

The province is already doing preliminary work on two gold mines, one in Montague and one in Goldenville.

The remaining mine sites will be evaluated and those deemed to be the highest risk to human health or the environment, or with the most serious contamination, will go to the top of the to-do list.

Donnie Burke, executive director of environmental assessment and remediation at Nova Scotia Lands, told CBC News once the list is completed, officials will recommend the order in which those sites should be cleaned up.

"We're actually picking a proper process to follow versus just grabbing the next one," he said. "It's a defendable process that's repeatable."

The Montgague Gold Mines is one of the abandoned mines the province has committed to cleaning up. This swath of tailings should be forested, like the surrounding area, but the arsenic levels are too high to permit the growth of trees. (Frances Willick/CBC)

However, it will ultimately be up to the Department of Lands and Forestry to determine the cleanup order.

Deputy Minister Julie Towers said the triage system will pave the way for a systematic cleanup of those abandoned mine sites, which are now the responsibility of the province.

"It's about exactly what actions will take place and at what time," she said.

So far, the provincial government has only costed out the remediation of the gold mines in Montague and Goldenville, which is estimated at $48 million.

Towers said it was unclear when the full cost for all sites might be known, but she expected to have some of the estimates by next year.

The tailings at the Montague Gold Mines site are easily spotted from above. (Google Street View)

In a report released last October, provincial Auditor General Michael Pickup criticized the government for what he called "ineffective monitoring and reporting of abandoned mine sites."

He recommended the government do more to determine the overall the cost of cleaning up the sites and to evaluate their potential to "negatively impact human and ecological health."

In May or June, the auditor general's office will release another report, this time looking at what the province "is doing to identify and manage contaminated sites" for which it's responsible.

Auditor General Michael Pickup has previously criticized the province for 'ineffective monitoring and reporting of abandoned mine sites.' (CBC)

Burke said of the 67 abandoned mines, 10 to 20 of them will likely come off the list because some remediation or post-mining closure has already been done on them.

As an example, he pointed to a limestone quarry in Irish Cove, Cape Breton, which the province has already done some work on.

"We may have to cross a couple of t's and dot the i's, but then we actually go to [the] Environment [Department] and say these should come off the list," said Burke.

Here's the list of 69 abandoned mines located on Crown land:

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