Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia to spend $48M cleaning up 2 former gold mines

The provincial government will spend $47.9 million to clean up two former gold mines in what is the beginning of a project to evaluate — and possibly clean up — dozens of abandoned sites in Nova Scotia.

Sites in Dartmouth and Guysborough County 'the two most egregious,' says minister

This spot at Montague Gold Mines should be forested, like the surrounding area, but the arsenic levels are too high to permit the growth of trees. (Frances Willick/CBC)

The provincial government will spend $47.9 million to clean up two former gold mines in what is the beginning of a project to evaluate — and possibly clean up — dozens of abandoned sites in Nova Scotia.

The former gold mining sites in Montague Gold Mines, near Dartmouth, and Goldenville, in Guysborough County, are large sites with high levels of contaminants and close to communities, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin told reporters in Halifax Thursday.

"These are the two most egregious, I would say," he said.

Now that the government has a clear estimate of what the work will cost, tenders for the remediation will be issued by Nova Scotia Lands and Rankin said the reports on the sites would be made public in the coming days.

The department will next look at the Caribou Mines and Oldham historic gold mines close to Upper Musquodoboit and the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, respectively. Two historical coal mines — Halfway Road and Ocean Street — in Sydney Mines will also be evaluated. Both are located on old SYSCO land.

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

With a new evaluation process to follow, government will work through all 69 abandoned sites on Crown land to determine what needs to be cleaned up, said Rankin.

"We have a duty to the public to address the environment," he said.

"A lot of [the sites] are up to 50 years old or longer and back then there wasn't really regulations in place. There's varying levels of contaminants; some of them may not need remediation, so we're looking through and prioritizing that."

Mercury and arsenic are two of the contaminants that would be cleaned up from sites, said Rankin.

'We do need to respond'

The cost of cleaning up the two sites was included in the final public accounts documents the government released Thursday for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Finance Minister Karen Casey said that although the cost of cleaning up sites could be high, it's something government needs to do.

"We have accepted responsibility that we do need to respond," she told reporters.

"We recognize that this is something that has been long overdue, needs to be done and we have begun the process."

Opposition reaction

Tory Leader Tim Houston said the sites need to be cleaned up and previous governments haven't done a good enough job on that front.

"We can't be aware of situations that pose a risk to our communities, to our water sources and turn a blind eye."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the need for the public to pay the bill to clean up these sites underscores the importance of having a strong environmental assessment and regulatory system so the public isn't in danger of having to pay a bill "years down the road."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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