Nova Scotia

Nova Construction hopes to open Junction Road coal mine

An industry that was once the economic lifeblood of Springhill could soon be making a return to the town, as an Antigonish company seeks the green light to sample 10,000 tonnes of coal starting as soon as early next year.

Town once famous for mines could start supplying Nova Scotia Power

Springhill used to be synonymous with mining. (CBC)

An industry that was once the economic lifeblood of Springhill, N.S., could soon return to the town, as an Antigonish company seeks the green light to sample 10,000 tonnes of coal starting as soon as early next year.

Springhill Coal Mines Ltd., a subsidiary of Nova Construction, wants to dig an open pit to pluck the coal from land it owns in the Junction Road area and ship it to Trenton to test as fuel in Nova Scotia Power's generating station.

"We're still a province that burns a lot of coal per year to generate electricity," Nova Construction President Donald Chisholm told CBC News. "For a number of years to come, that's probably going to remain the same."

Springhill Coal Mines submitted an application to Nova Scotia Environment on July 27. At this point, the company is only applying to drill for test amounts and any move to open a full scale open pit mine would be subject to a fresh application and full environmental assessment.

Nova Construction and its subsidiaries have owned a series coal mines in Nova Scotia since the 1970s. Its only remaining site is in Stellarton, a Nova Scotia Power supplier.

Chisholm said the Stellarton mine will likely only be open for another three years and Nova is eyeing a replacement source for the coal it provides to Nova Scotia Power.

"Springhill seems to be the next one to certainly explore," Chisholm says.

The town has a long association with coal mining, with the first reserves leased in 1825. But the underground mines have also been deadly, with disasters in 1891, 1956 and 1958 that killed scores of workers.

And while Springhill's history may be steeped in coal, some in town are far from thrilled at the prospect of a surface mine.

'Over my body'

Ralph Ross has been an opponent since word began to spread about two years ago that Nova was considering an open pit near where the old underground mine system sits.

He says he worries even excavating surface amounts could damage the town's geothermal system. The old mine workings contain nearly 50 billion litres of water, which is heated by the earth and then brought to the surface and used by some businesses in the area.

"If they decide they're going to do some strip mining in the town of Springhill, I and a lot of other residents of this town will lay down across the highway and they'll have to go over my body," Ross says.

Chisholm says his company has no intention of disturbing the geothermal system and there will "no doubt" be monitoring requirements to make sure there are no problems.

He adds there was opposition to the project during an early public meeting, but that has died down.  

"Do we expect everybody to like what we're doing? No. But we are providing some domestic energy for the province," Chisholm says. "If someday that business doesn't happen to continue, well, we'll go do something else. 

"But for the meantime, we'd like to explore and see if there's opportunities locally."

Earlier this year, company officials said the plan was to expose three coal seams in Springhill using test pits 15 metres deep, 90 metres long and 30 metres wide, according to notes from a public presentation.

The coal will be tested at Nova Scotia Power's plant in Trenton. In an email, a spokesperson with the power company said it needs to understand how the coal will perform and what emissions it will give off.

Nova Scotia Power still relies on coal to generate between 55 per cent and 60 per cent of its power. Nearly 90 per cent of that coal is sourced from outside of Canada and tends to be cleaner than what is available.

Members of the public have until Sept. 11 to submit their views on the test pit project, which will involve drilling and blasting.

Once the public consultation is complete and other information has been submitted, Nova Scotia Environment has 60 days to decide whether to grant the industrial approval and under what conditions.

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