The Crown prosecutor handling the environmental prosecution against Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia, an affiliate of Atlantic Gold, has reached a tentative plea deal with the company.
The deal: Atlantic Gold pays a $5,000 fine to the government, and makes a $120,000 donation to the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA).
But NSSA won’t agree to it, and doesn’t want Atlantic Gold’s money.
“The value of the watersheds that are being threatened, the West River Sheet Harbour and especially the St. Mary’s River far exceed any kind of six-figure donation or penalty,” Mike Bardsley, executive director and member of the executive of NSSA, told the Halifax Examiner.
The art of the deal
Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia, which operates Nova Scotia’s first — and so far only — open pit gold mine at Moose River, has appeared seven times in provincial court year on 32 environmental charges laid under the Nova Scotia Environment Act, and has failed to enter a plea on those charges laid back in September 2020, as the Halifax Examiner reported on October 23, the day after the most recent court hearing.
According Bardsley, the Crown prosecutor has approached the association about the $120,000 penalty donation that Atlantic needs to fulfill.
“To the best of my knowledge, it was the Department of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change that made a suggestion to the Crown prosecutor,” Bardsley said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. “And the Nova Scotia Salmon Association was brought up as a group who would have suffered the most damage and then potentially be the most threatened by the actions of Atlantic Gold. And so we were put forward as a potential recipient of the donation and the fine.”
The Examiner has asked Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change if the department put NSSA forward as a recipient of the donation, and will update this article when an answer is received.
Bardsley said the NSSA board met on the evening of October 21, the night before Atlantic Mining NS was to appear again in provincial court, and this proposal from the Crown prosecutor was tabled. Legal experts on the NSSA Board examined the details of the offer, and board members offered feedback on how to proceed.
NSSA represents about 21 affiliate groups, Bardsley said. “So one of the very first things that we did, was reach out to our affiliates, who in this case would be St Mary’s River Association, Pictou County River Association, and the Antigonish River Association, with our synopsis of the information and the situation.”
“We got unanimous feedback from them that they were not interested in taking money from Atlantic Gold,” said Bardsley. “
In the notice to their affiliates, NSSA said that Atlantic Gold had agreed with the concept, but that it had also indicated that it would like some conditions attached to the donation. According to the notice, Atlantic Gold wanted to see the funds used for physical habitat improvement, and be updated and informed on how the funds were being used.
What made it very concerning for us were the conditions that they attached to the donation. They were trying to court some favour with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, and trying to have us be a little bit more on side with some of their activity. And generally the consensus within our group is that no money would be accepted with any kind of condition attached to it, in any way shape or form.
Bardsley pointed out that NSSA is “comfortable” with its existing funding models, and said it is “very, very reticent to accept any money from organizations that are working against the health and well-being of those watersheds.”
NSSA opposed to Beaver Dam mine
In March this year, the Examiner reported on the risks that another open pit gold mine that St Barbara / Atlantic Gold has planned for Beaver Dam poses to the work that the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and its various partners, including the provincial government, have been doing to restore salmon habitat and salmon populations in the West River Sheet Harbour.
At the time, then NSSA president, the late Mike Crosby who died two weeks ago, made no bones about his opposition to the gold mine, telling the Examiner:
You’ve got a mine that has an expected life of four to six years that is expected to create some 220 and 280 jobs, if those figures are accurate … And so for a couple of hundred jobs over four years, some of which may not go to Nova Scotians, we appear willing to trade our landscape [for] the potential for disaster in a place where we spent a lot of time and money proving that something could be done and actually doing it. And mining a commodity that really nobody needs. Mine for profit. There’s enough gold in the world. If they never mined another ounce of gold, we wouldn’t miss it.
We went to several meetings with Atlantic Gold and talked about the potential for doing this and that. But it just gets to the stage where you were either for it or against it … As safe as you may try to make it, the plain and simple fact of life is things happen. And so the [Nova Scotia] Salmon Association has just taken a stance that we’re against it. We’re as cut and dried as that. People may not like that, but our goal is to protect wild Atlantic salmon and the habitats that they’re in and not to build gold mines.
There is also a great deal of opposition to Atlantic Gold’s plans for an open pit gold mine at Cochrane Hill, on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, where a lot of federal government money has gone into river and salmon restoration.
Atlantic Gold, an affiliate of Atlantic Mining NS, was acquired in 2019 by St Barbara for $722 million. The Touquoy gold mine in Moose River opened in 2017, and St Barbara has plans to open three more along the Eastern Shore, at Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mile Stream, and Cochrane Hill one the banks of the St. Mary’s River, near Sherbrooke.
St Barbara’s proposed mines for Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream are currently undergoing an environmental assessment at the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
In addition to the 32 provincial environmental charges, an additional three federal charges were laid in March this year under the Fisheries Act. (The Halifax Examiner, which broke the story about provincial environmental charges in December 2020, has since then reported in depth on all the charges, here and here.)
The matter has again been adjourned to a date later next month (tentatively November 29), which will be the company’s eighth court appearance for the charges.