Nova Scotia

Concerns raised about proposed Eastern Shore gold mine

Indigenous and environmental groups in Nova Scotia are worried about the mine's potential effects on water, land and wildlife.

Indigenous, environmental groups in N.S. worried about potential effects on water, land, wildlife

The Touquoy mine, also operated by Atlantic Gold, officially opened in October 2017. Gold from the proposed Fifteen Mile Stream project will be partially processed at the Touquoy site. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Environmental organizations and Indigenous groups in Nova Scotia are raising concerns about a proposed 280-hectare open-pit gold mine on the Eastern Shore.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is now reviewing the Fifteen Mile Stream gold project, which aims to process two million tonnes of ore every year for six years, beginning in 2021.

Atlantic Mining NS Corp, a subsidiary of Atlantic Gold Corporation, plans to mine, crush and concentrate the ore at the site, located about 30 kilometres north of Sheet Harbour. The gold concentrate will then be trucked 76 kilometres to the company's Touquoy mine processing facility, where it will be turned into roughly 215 gold doré​ bars per year.

The company expects to employ up to 200 people at the site.

The project is still in the early stages of the federal environmental assessment process. The company has submitted a 35-page project summary and proposed guidelines for its full environmental review.

Risk from tailings facilities

The Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association wrote in its submission to the agency that it had many "urgent concerns" about the proposal, including the possible leaching of chemicals from the tailings into surface and groundwater.

The company has proposed storing the tailings — the material that's left over after the gold is extracted — at an above-ground, water-retaining dam with an impermeable membrane upstream, with ditches and ponds to collect sediment and seepage.

Additional tailings from further gold processing at the Touquoy facility will be added to the Touquoy tailings treatment plant.

Blasting at the Touquoy mine in Moose River Gold Mines. (Submitted by Atlantic Gold Corp. )

Although Atlantic Gold says there will be only a "small increase" in tailings at Touquoy, the forest watch association is concerned that the "greatly increased pressure" at the Touquoy tailings facility could pose a risk.

If that facility failed, effluent would flow through multiple bodies of water, the village of Lake Charlotte and eventually to Ship Harbour, the group said.

"Failure of any part of the effluent containment system would be catastrophic for both wildlife and people who depend on clean water to make their livings," the association wrote.

In its letter to the agency, Millbrook First Nation also raised concerns about a "greater risk of a breach" at the Touquoy site due to the added tailings.

James Millard, Atlantic Gold's manager of environment and permitting, said in an interview there will be no cyanide used at the Fifteen Mile Stream site, and any chemicals used would be "fairly inert." 

"There will be some other minor, pretty harmless chemicals being used … typical stuff that you would use at treatment plants anywhere, including water treatment plants for potable water ... but nothing that I would say is toxic, or toxic to the same degree as cyanide."

Millard said the extra tailings added to Touquoy would be easily handled by the existing facility, and no breaches would occur.

"We would never operate in such a manner to cause that type of a stress or a breach or a problem," he said. "That sort of thing just would not happen."

Concern for wildlife, fish

The mine site will include an open pit that's 625 metres long, 425 metres wide and 150 metres deep.

The company plans to move 1.3 kilometres of the Seloam Brook to the north of the pit to divert surface water away from its operations.

The rerouting of the brook is a concern for the Native Council of Nova Scotia due to the possible impact on fish, although the group notes in its submission that it's possible the change could actually improve fish passage by circumventing some dams in the brook.

Millard said the permitting process requires the company to create new and improved habitat if any is disrupted.

"I expect that fish habitat in that area will be vastly improved as a result of that diversion," he said.

The Native Council also questioned the project's potential effects on animals in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary, with which the mine would overlap.

Both the council and Millbrook First Nation wrote that the project could have an impact on treaty rights to use the land for food, social and ceremonial activities.

Atlantic Gold Corp. expects to employ about 200 people at the Fifteen Mile Stream site. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Roger Hunka of the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council said the council ​plans to meet with Atlantic Gold and wants more details about the project.

He said the effects of blasting and runoff from the mine are among the group's concerns.

"Surface mining is … a very obtrusive form of mining, and it does affect everything when you're basically digging out pits," he said. "There's a lot of digging and disturbance of topsoil as well as animal, plant life and everything else."

Kris Hunter, the president of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, said digging up the bedrock could release naturally occurring acids and heavy metals into streams, as well as sediment from disturbed soils, which could affect endangered salmon and trout.

"We support opportunities for rural economic development. We recognize that's important to our communities," he said. "But at the same time, our mandate is to protect wild Atlantic salmon. We have to be that watchdog. We are the voice for those fish."

Four gold projects in area

The Fifteen Mile Stream project is one of four that Atlantic Gold is operating or developing in the Eastern Shore area. Its Touquoy mine, located in the former village of Moose River Gold Mines, began commercial production in March. The proposed Beaver Dam site is still under federal environmental review, and test drilling is being conducted at the Cochrane Hill site.

Millard noted that the existing Touquoy project is providing well-paid jobs in rural areas as well as training, economic development and government revenue. He said the Fifteen Mile Stream job would do the same.

"We feel we have a very good track record on safety and environmental management," he said. "At the same time, we do understand that … we have to earn and maintain that social licence to operate.  We're committed to do that."

The government will accept comments from the public until Aug. 20 on how the environment could be affected by the proposal and what issues should be examined during the assessment.