SMRA protests at Atlantic Gold office opening

By Rob Wolf    

SHERBROOKE – Placards and chants greeted visitors to Atlantic Gold’s open house at their new Community Outreach Office on Main Street in Sherbrooke Thursday, April 4 — but they weren’t there in support of the company’s efforts to put at open pit gold mine on nearby Cochrane Hill.

The president of the St. Mary’s River Association, Scott Beaver, who organized the protest of about 50 local people, says the association and its supports are against the gold mine because of the impact it will have on the community and on the St. Mary’s River.

“Local residents are concerned about what this mine will do to the community in terms of the dust it will create, the pounding the already bad roads will take, what effect it will have on tourism, what it will do to property values as well as the risk that the municipality will have to bear in the case of any potential environmental catastrophes,” Beaver told The Journal during the protest. The group also has concerns about the river itself.

“There has been a lot work ongoing over the past 20 years or so,” he said, noting that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the SMRA putting volunteer time, effort and government money into restoring the St. Mary’s River. “We have spent over one million dollars in reclamation projects recently, with the hope of more enhancements to come in the very near future.”

Beaver is passionate about ongoing river restoration projects, which include stock enhancement, river access, water chemistry and habitat restoration. He adds, “It makes no sense to put a gold mine in such an environmentally sensitive habitat for the sake of a few jobs for a few people for only a few years.”

Atlantic Gold’s open house saw about 50 visitors, with many of them encouraged about the possibility of jobs for local residents. Inside the company’s new Sherbrooke office, some expressed hope that the mine would go through, citing economic benefits for the community.

Dustin O’Leary, communications manager at Atlantic Gold, said the company understands the concerns being raised and people exercising “their right to protest.” He also stated that “the company is in the midst of a full environmental assessment as well as a separate economic impact assessment process. Both reports will be released as part of a public open house consultation which will take place after the reports have been completed. The meetings are slated to take place in late spring or early summer.”

Atlantic Gold opened this new office on Main Street in Sherbrooke, on the site of the old fire hall, as part of its community outreach efforts. It encourages local residents to drop in and see for themselves what the company is doing to mitigate environmental risks and learn more about the economic possibility that the mine represents.

“The hope is that people will see the scientific requirements behind the process and understand the rigorous process we are committed to,” said O’Leary.

James Millard, manager of environment and permitting at Atlantic Gold, said that there is “an extensive consultation process underway with outside environmental consultants, including Golder Associates, Stantec, GHD Environmental and Knight Piesold among others. They are looking at potential impacts on light, air quality, ground and surface water, if and how noise will be a factor as well as reclamation efforts for the site. They are all assisting us in informing the Environmental Impact Statement that we will be releasing the results of in early summer.”

As part of the public consultation process, the company plans to speak with residents in close proximity to the proposed mine site to discuss the findings of the report prior to the wider public consultation. Part of the effort to engage with residents on this project has been the formation of a community liaison committee early on in the process. “We specifically formed this group earlier on than usual to get input from the community. We have already had two meetings to date and look forward to many more in the future,” said Millard. He also noted that the SMRA has a member seat on that committee, which the association confirmed.

The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s was represented at last week’s event by a number of councillors who spoke with representatives of Atlantic Gold as well as community members who were on hand to either support or protest the mine project. Warden Mike Mosher stated, “We have still not made up our minds whether to support the project or not, we are here to gather information before we make a decision to support or not support the project.” He also noted that the municipality has commissioned their own independent socio-economic impact study, with John Jozsa Management & Economics, to determine the potential benefits of the project for the municipality. That report is anticipated to be ready by the time the public open house takes place in early summer.

“Ultimately, the federal and provincial environment departments have the final say, but we want to be well informed and make our opinions and those of the municipality heard,” said Mosher.