Nova Scotia

Proposed Eastern Shore mine could bring benefits and harms, report says

A new report commissioned by the Municipality of the District of St. Mary's highlights boon to employment, but danger to tourism sector.

Jobs from gold mine would boost some aspects of economy, but endanger tourism sector

Workers set charges as they prepare a blast at Atlantic Gold's Touquoy gold mine in Moose River Gold Mines, N.S., in 2017. A newly released report analyzes the potential economic impact of Atlantic Gold's proposed Cochrane Hill mine. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A new analysis of the economic impact of a proposed gold mine on the Eastern Shore suggests the project could bring both benefits and harms to the area.

Commissioned by the Municipality of the District of St. Mary's, the study looked at the proposed Cochrane Hill gold mine's impact on the economy, employment, tax and tourism.

"We're interested in what the national impact would be and provincial impact, but we're also interested in what the local impact to the economy might be from the proposed mine," said Marvin MacDonald, the municipality's chief administrative officer.

The project, proposed by Atlantic Gold — the operator of the province's only current gold mine — would see an open-pit mine developed about 13 kilometres northeast of Sherbrooke, N.S. It would operate for six years, plus one year of development and one to three years of reclamation.

Employment impacts

The economic impact analysis by Jozsa Management & Economics found the mine would create about 345 direct, full-time jobs and 315 indirect jobs.

"In a small rural area, a couple of jobs is important," said MacDonald. "Those are big numbers for jobs in our area."

But the report found those jobs would likely be difficult to fill from within the municipality's labour force. The area has an older population and a "large percentage" of the experienced labour force is 65 or older.

The report estimates that between 20 and 40 per cent of the direct jobs and just one to four per cent of the spinoff jobs would be taken by people in the municipality.

The Touquoy gold mine employs about 270 people. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The consultant pointed out that job training programs would likely be needed to boost the number of local employees.

MacDonald said the question now is: "How do we maximize on ensuring that we get as much of [the jobs] as we have the capacity to take in?"

Despite the boon of new jobs, the mine would not create significant or sustainable new businesses, the report said, as the suppliers and contractors currently used by Atlantic Gold at its existing Touquoy operation could likely carry out the necessary work at Cochrane Hill.

No one from Atlantic Gold was made available for an interview, but an emailed statement said the company "wants to explore every opportunity to maximize the benefits of our projects for those living the closest to the community," and that it can provide training for potential employees.

Potential effects on tourism and recreation

Overall, the mine would have a minor positive impact on existing businesses, with the potential for a major positive impact on construction, demolition and trucking companies.

But there's one major exception to that relatively rosy picture.

The report calls the proposed mine a "potential threat" that could have a major negative impact on the area's tourism and recreation sector due to possible light, dust and noise pollution, traffic and contaminant release into waterways.

"The mere existence of an open-pit mine operating in the area could act as a disincentive for tourists and potential seasonal residents," the report noted.

Among the region's tourist attractions are the Sherbrooke Village Museum and the St. Marys River, the report said.

"Extreme care must be taken to ensure that the operation of the gold mine does not have a negative impact on the tourism assets most valued by the most rapidly growing segments of the tourism market," it said.

The St. Marys River is a key part of the tourist draw in the municipality. (Scott Leslie)

Scott Beaver, the president of the St. Mary's River Association, said tourism is the primary industry in the area and the St. Marys River is an important part of that.

"To pose any risk to this resource — this natural resource that we have and we've built our communities around — is, you know, that's preposterous," he said.

"The short-term economic benefit that a mine might bring to an area is more than offset by the long-term economic risk it poses to the community."

Beaver is part of a grassroots effort to oppose the mine called "No Open Pit Excavation," which has sparked demonstrations.

In its statement, Atlantic Gold said the company will explore ways to increase tourism opportunities in the area.

According to the report, the municipality would receive nearly $330,000 in tax revenue from the mine per operating year — something MacDonald calls a "fairly substantial increase" in commercial tax revenue.

Municipality to pass judgment on proposal

The economic impact analysis notes that Atlantic Gold did not provide any information to the consultants who wrote it.

The statement from Atlantic Gold said the company was "pleased with the positive, independent conclusions" in the report.

MacDonald said the municipality is waiting for the conclusion of the federal environmental assessment of the Cochrane Hill mine before council forms an official opinion on the project.

"While we are looking for positive economic activity in the municipality, it's not just at any price." MacDonald said. "We have to ensure that the environment is protected as well."

About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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