Residents, groups call for full federal review of Cochrane Hill Gold Project

By Helen Murphy    

ST. MARY’S – The overwhelming majority of submissions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s review of Atlantic Gold’s proposal for an open-pit gold mine at Cochrane Hill in the District of St. Mary’s raises concerns over the environmental impact of the project and calls for a full federal environmental review. Some of the submitted comments were from residents in the immediate vicinity of the planned gold mine, along Highway 7 at Melrose.

The agency is tasked with deciding whether a federal environmental assessment is required for the proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Project. It received 49 public comments, nine comments from non-governmental organizations and two comments from Indigenous groups during the submission period in October.

“My family has lived in the area for five generations now and we have had the privilege of enjoying the natural beauty the area has to offer for many years,” wrote Scott Beaver in his submission. “I do not support the mine proposed for this fragile, pristine ecosystem. If this mine comes to the area my family and I will strongly consider moving.”

Joanne Mailman, a St. Mary’s resident for 37 years and former manager of the St. Mary’s River Assoc. (SMRA) noted “all the work the association has accomplished in the watershed” and said she fears that the open-pit mine will hurt the environment. “Gold mining uses lots of water and chemicals,” she wrote. “The use of holdings ponds for the waste water is of great concern. I am aware of some of the potential problems that arise in this type of mining. While I am sure your company would try to mitigate potential problems, they do happen. Short term jobs vs potential long term environmental destruction is just not worth it.”

George Sutherland, owner of a camp along the St. Mary’s River and a volunteer board member on the St. Mary’s River Association, joined with the many commentators expressing concern about risks to the river.

“The project proposes drawing huge amounts of water from a nearby lake and the river,” he wrote. “Mining that area risks disturbing natural arsenic and metals. If there was a single spill or other event that allowed harmful materials to enter the river, this could have catastrophic effects and cause irreparable damage to fish, birds, animals and the river and surrounding area. The short term jobs and few economic benefits of this project do not justify the serious environmental risks.”

Some of those commenting, including Milton and Mary Gallant, said the potential economic gains are small compared to the risks of the project.

“Atlantic Gold has communicated this five to six-year project will employ up to 220 people (during the construction phase), reduced number of people employed for the forecasted five-year mining phase,” the Gallants wrote. “They optimistically project that this employment will stem the tide of local residents moving to other parts of the province and country for employment. Optimism and realism are very different in this situation – we are not sure who would buy/build a home, buy a vehicle, or start a family with a five-year forecast of work.”

Paul Tuttle echoed that view: “One does not have to look far in our province to find examples of where the promise of a few short term jobs has trumped the need to protect the environment,” he said. “After the natural resources have been depleted, the foreign owners of the companies pack up with their profits in hand and move on to the next attractive area. What’s often left, is a decimated landscape and a clean up bill for the taxpayers to look after.”

John Cameron also pointed to the work accomplished by the SMRA over the years. “I was the founding president of the St. Mary's River Association in 1979,” he wrote. “Since then I have been active in protecting, preserving, and promoting one of Nova Scotia's treasures, the St. Mary's River. I could cite countless gold mining communities that have not stood the test of time; however, the St. Mary's has stood the test, and we are determined to see good days ahead for our river and environment.”

Among other concerns, Dawn Howard highlighted potential problems with truck traffic. “The trucks will be travelling on roads that were never meant to take that kind of traffic,” she wrote. “It will make bad roads worse.”

Stephen Flemming, executive director of Sherbrooke Village, raised concerns about the impact on Highway 7 and tourism, among other things. “The two options for the road reroute of the Number 7 Highway are both uphill from the proposed open-pit mine and tailings work area,” he wrote. “As currently conceived, it would be hard to imagine travelling on the rerouted highway and not having a full view of the active mine site. This may pose a significant dis-incentive to potential tourism for the Sherbrooke area and Eastern Shore. Additional routes with view-plain information are required to explore means to mitigate the view plain issue, and an informed assessment of potential effects on tourism and on the “nature brand” of Guysborough County must be undertaken. The socio-economic effects on tourism need to be properly assessed.”

SMRA previously presented its opposition to the project to St. Mary’s Council. In its written submission to the CEAA, it said: “The SMRA believes every major resource project requires a full environmental assessment to determine if it can be safely carried out. If it is determined that it should proceed, the assessment needs to consider the environmental impact and to identify ways to mitigate any associated risks.”

Among the few submissions recommending the project proceed, without specific reference to environmental review, was commentary from Truro businessman Michael MacGillivray, who wrote: “Please proceed with allowing this work to occur...We need to encourage as many business opportunities as possible.”

On Tuesday SMRA told The Journal it will make presentations to community groups over the coming months “to help folks understand the risks associated with modern day gold mining.” The association is also opening its doors at its Interpretive Centre in Sherbrooke “to anyone wishing to engage in a conversation about the gold mine.”

The first presentation at the Interpretive Centre will be on December 5 at 7 p.m.