SHERBROOKE – Close to 100 people attended each of last week’s two public meetings in Sherbrooke on Atlantic Gold’s plans for an open pit gold mine at Cochrane Hill in the District of St. Mary’s. The meetings, hosted by the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, followed two earlier consultations for residents and property owners within a five-kilometre radius fo the proposed site, and bring the total attendance at the four consultations to nearly 300.
Those wanting to share their views on Atlantic Gold’s plans were each given three minutes to speak, following a 15-minute introduction by the municipality. Some participants were able to speak again later in the meeting, as time allowed.
Warden Michael Mosher told The Journal that participants were very respectful of those voicing their views, “no matter what side of the issue you were on.”
The Feb. 12 and 17 meetings were each scheduled for two hours. The second one, Mosher said, went an extra 30 minutes, to accommodate everyone who wanted to speak. “Some people drove a long way,” he said, “and we were more than willing to do that.”
The warden acknowledged that not everyone is comfortable speaking on such a divisive issue at a public meeting, noting that the municipality is accepting written submission on the matter until April 1. Media and Altantic Gold representatives were not invited to any of the four meetings. Mosher said the intention was to provide a space where residents and property owners would be comfortable sharing their thoughts with St. Mary’s council.
“This is a long process,” he said during an interview Monday. “We are hoping to make some sort of decision (on the municipality’s position on the project) late spring/early summer. We have to be able to make our decision based on facts and to defend our decision. Obviously some people will be disappointed in the decision.”
He said council heard from people “on both sides and down the middle” at these meetings.
The municipality plans to issue a call for proposals this week for an economic impact report on the proposed project. “That will be a major part of the process of making a decision,” said Mosher. “We have the economy, the environment and the social aspect we have to look out for.” He said the company’s environmental impact statement, currently in development, will also help shape the municipality’s position on the planned gold mine.
At each public meeting, the municipality stressed that it does not get to decide if this project comes to St. Mary’s or not. The municipality will simply be providing its comments and position on the project in a submission to the federal agency conducting an environmental review of the Cochrane Hill Gold Project, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry.
Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Assoc., says the overwhelming majority of people speaking at these four meetings was against the Atlantic Gold project.
“So I would call it a win for the NOPE campaign,” he told The Journal. SMRA is leading a “No Open Pit Excavation” campaign against the project, with NOPE signs posted on properties throughout the municipality.
Beaver said there are many reasons people are against the project, but that opposition mostly relates to the St. Mary’s River.
“The one overwhelming factor is definitely anything to do with the river,” he said. “Everything from critical habitat to people’s well water.”
He said other concerns include dust in the air, the 260-acre tailings pond and the number of trucks that will be on the road.
“It’s endless,” he said of residents’ concerns. “I could go on and on.”
In terms of the long process council is taking to determine its position on the proposal and its numerous public consultations, Beaver said he is grateful.
“As president of St. Mary’s River Association, I do want to thank the staff, council and warden mostly because they provided the residents of St. Mary’s with a platform to share their thoughts on this. That goes pretty far,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”
Organizers of the NOPE campaign have also met with Premier Stephen McNeil and MP Sean Fraser to discuss their concerns. Beaver said they are also trying to get a meeting with Lloyd Hines, MLA for Guysborough - Eastern Shore - Tracadie. He said Hines has offered to meet with them in Halifax, because of his busy schedule, but they want a meeting in St. Mary’s