SHERBROOKE – The long-awaited report on the potential economic impacts of Atlantic Gold’s planned mine at Cochrane Hill, commissioned by the District of St. Mary’s in spring 2019, has been released.
According to the St. Mary’s River Assoc., it confirms the project will have minor benefits and “significant negative impacts,” says the group’s president, Scott Beaver.
“The impacts…will hit existing tourism and future tourism the hardest,” Beaver said in an email to The Journal Monday. “I must say, as the President of the St. Mary’s River Association, an organization with grass roots in the area for 40 years now, I find this report reiterating much of what we have been saying.”
St. Mary’s Warden Michael Mosher says the 63-page report is one piece of the puzzle in terms of the municipality taking a position on the project, and is helpful in bringing more facts to the table.
“We need to base our decision on facts, and we need to be able to back (our decision) up,” he said during an interview with The Journal Monday. The warden noted that this report is an arms-length, third-party analysis of the economic impacts of the project.
“We’re going to analyze it, study it and use the whole document to help us determine where we’re at,” he said.
A letter from president John Jozsa accompanying the report said Atlantic Gold "did not acknowledge or respond to any elements of our information request."
In response to a query from The Journal, Atlantic Gold stated in an email Tuesday that it “is pleased with the positive, independent conclusions reached in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s consultant’s report. Atlantic Gold has reviewed the report also and sees areas where our company can focus to further recognize the priorities of local residents.”
Atlantic Gold said it is also undertaking a number of studies around the project’s economic impact. Once completed, the company says those findings will be made available to the municipality’s consultant on this issue, St. Mary's council and the public. The company expects that will happen sometime in 2020.
“For their part, St Mary’s Council chose the parameters of their study and the associated timelines for its release and Atlantic Gold respects their decision.”
In terms of jobs during mine development, operations and the reclamation phase of the project, the Jozsa report says local benefits are limited by the amount of skilled labour available, and the large percentage of experienced labour aged 65 and older.
About 91 direct jobs (mostly trades, transport and equipment operators) would be created in the first year of mine development, it says, paying about $84,522 each. About 92 “indirect and induced” jobs would be expected to be created throughout N.S. and 58 in the rest of Canada in that initial year.
The consultant says more of these early jobs could go to local residents if the project proponent engages in skills upgrading programs and creates bid packages that can be successfully bid upon by local businesses.
"Residents of the Municipality might capture, at most, 20 per cent of the direct mine development jobs," the report states.
Special efforts by the project proponent would also be needed if the local area is to benefit significantly from spinoff jobs.
"Assuming that no special efforts are made by the proponent to purchase goods and services, St. Mary's can expect to capture 1 per cent to 4 per cent of the spinoff activity."
The proposed mine is expected to operate for six years. During each operating year, it would create about 220 direct jobs (such as skilled trades and equipment operators) and about 193 other jobs throughout N.S., and 113 in the rest of Canada.
Again, the report notes that if Atlantic Gold invests in skills upgrading and creates bid packages with local firms in mind, area residents would benefit more from these opportunities.
"Residents may be able to capture, at most, 30 per cent of the direct operations jobs," the report says.
Impacts on St. Mary's population will be "very limited" because the project's lifespan is expected to be seven to nine years, says the report. The number of permanent residents could increase if the municipality takes it upon itself to identify former residents who may be qualified for mine jobs and interested in moving back home, it states.
On the tourism side, the report says the proposed mine is a “potential threat to the current sustainability and future growth of the tourism sector in the municipality.”
It lists threats to tourism as light, dust and noise pollution; materials from the mining process potentially getting into waterways, including the St. Mary's River; large ore trucks on the shore highway discouraging tourists; and "the mere existence of an open pit mine" being a disincentive for tourists.
The consultant predicts municipal coffers would benefit by about $328,837 in increased commercial tax revenue for each operating year of the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine.
St. Mary’s engaged Jozsa Management & Economics for this analysis in early spring, 2019. Mosher said the municipality had hoped to have this report and Atlantic Gold’s Environmental Impact Statement in time to take a position in early summer, but circumstances beyond its control have delayed its decision-making process.
Atlantic Gold was bought by Australian gold producer St. Barbara in July 2019. The Environmental Impact Statement for the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine has not yet been submitted to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).
While the municipality has no decision-making power over whether the project goes forward or not, Mosher said council hopes there will be some weight to its eventual position.
“I’d like to think that somebody is listening to what we have to say.”
Ultimately it will be up to federal and provincial agencies to decide if the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine is allowed to proceed. The CEAA issued guidelines to Atlantic Gold for its Environmental Impact Statement on January 4, 2019.
Jozsa’s economic impact analysis is based on Atlantic Gold’s original project description to the CEAA in Sept 2018.
SMRA leads the NOPE (No Open Pit Excavation) campaign in opposition to the proposed mine, including hosting community meetings, making presentations to municipal council and providing opposition signs to property owners.
The full economic impact report is available on the District of St. Mary’s website.