Saturday, September 23, 2023

Future wilderness status of Archibald Lake unclear

Feds halt environmental assessment of nearby Cochrane Hill gold mine

  • September 7 2022
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ST. MARY’S – As federal regulators pulled the plug last week on a proposed Sherbrooke-area gold mine’s environmental assessment, provincial officials were still “considering” whether to protect a local lake from future industrial forays onto its wetlands.

In a statement to The Journal on Sept. 1, Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) spokesperson Tracy Barron said, “No decisions [about protected wilderness designation] have been made on Archibald Lake, [and] we don’t have a timeline for a decision.”

The comments came days after the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) confirmed on Aug. 29 that the EA process for Atlantic Mining NS’s nearby Cochrane Hill Gold Project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 had been terminated for failing to provide “the required information or studies” by the deadline of Aug. 28.

“We have just become aware of the termination of the federal environmental assessment process for the mine, and are considering any implications,” Barron said.

Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association, lauded the IAAC decision as “a small victory for the river valley and our community … This is an opportunity, because there is legally no longer an actual mining project on the regulatory books. It means there is no longer any reason for the provincial government to hesitate or further delay the long-awaited designation of Archibald Lake as a protected provincial wilderness area.”

According to Sarah Brannen, spokesperson for the St Barbara-owned Atlantic Mining, the company had expected the federal regulator’s decision and had already chosen to prioritize the assessments of its two other development properties at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream in eastern Nova Scotia over Cochrane Hill.

“In June, St Barbara Atlantic Operations submitted an extension request for the Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream projects,” she said. “These were granted on Aug. 17. St Barbara made the decision not to pursue an extension for the Cochrane Hill Gold Project.”

She further explained that the “the benefits of permitting the project through an alternative process” included keeping “our focus … on the active operation of the Touquoy Gold Mine, and the ongoing environmental assessments for Fifteen Mile Stream and Beaver Dam; [and] an opportunity to consider important changes to the Cochrane Hill Gold Project related to resource confirmation, mine planning and feedback already received from First Nations, the public, and other stakeholders.”

Part of St. Barbara’s Cochrane Hill mine proposal in 2019 involved using Archibald Lake as a ready source of water for its thirsty industrial processes. The following year, Nova Scotia’s environmental regulators stated that if the area received wilderness status, “the company’s proposed use of Archibald Lake cannot be permitted.”

The designation has not materialized, but the uncertainty around it has affected the development timeline at Cochrane Hill. In a Sept. 2021 press release, the company stated, “initial production was expected to commence in [the third quarter] of [fiscal year] 2023. The delays in the permitting process for Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream, coupled with the pending decision on the suitability of Archibald Lake as a suitable water course, has resulted in first production from Cochrane Hill now expected in [fiscal year] 2028.”

In her statement, ECC’s Barron said, “We heard many viewpoints during the consultation on Archibald Lake and we are taking the time to consider them carefully. Our new Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act includes a goal to protect 20 per cent of our land and water by 2030. Currently, we are focused on finishing the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. We will develop a strategy by 2023 for achieving the 2030 goal.”

Brannen noted that “While we will be studying the impact of this [IAAC] decision on permitting timelines, we remain committed to successfully permitting a project at Cochrane Hill that will provide local jobs and bolster economic development while meeting our company values … and for … further engagement with First Nations, the public, and other stakeholders.”