Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine at Moose River Photo: Raymond Plourde / EAC
Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine at Moose River Photo: Raymond Plourde / EAC

Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia which operates Nova Scotia’s first — and so far only — open pit gold mine at Moose River appeared on Friday in provincial court for the seventh time this year on 32 environmental charges laid under the Nova Scotia Environment Act .

Once again, Atlantic Mining NS failed to enter a plea on the charges laid back in September 2020. 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.)

Most of the environmental charges are related to allowing silty runoff from the Touquoy open pit and from a clay pit two kilometers away to clog nearby brooks and streams with sediment. The federal charges relate to fish habitat and cover a period between Feb 2018 and May 2020.

The matter has again been adjourned to a date later next month — tentatively November 29 — for the same reason offered to Judge Alanna Murphy back in June.

At the court hearing on June 1, 2021, the lawyer for the company, Robert Grant; the province’s special prosecutor for environmental crimes, Brian Cox; and federal prosecutor, Marian Fortune-Stone, told the court that “more time was needed to finalize the details of a settlement proposal” to present to the judge for her approval.

That sounds like court speak for we-can-probably-avoid-going-to-trial-if-the-judge-accepts-whatever-amount-of-money-Atlantic Mining-is prepared-to-pay-as -a -fine-to make-these-pesky-charges-go-away. The cost of doing business, a cynic might say.

Judge Murphy did not question the request for another adjournment.

An aerial shot of the possible tailings leak at Touquoy open pit gold mine
Photo taken August 27 of Tailings facility at Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy open pit gold mine showing possible leak (contributed)
Photo taken August 27 of Tailings facility at Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy open pit gold mine showing possible leak (contributed)

In August this year, the Examiner reported on what looked from aerial photos like a pool of orange liquid that had seeped from the Moose River mine tailings facility.

Atlantic Mining NS spokesperson Dustin O’Leary denied that there had been a leak of any kind.

However, Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change did send staff to the site on August 30 to take samples from the pool, which were being sent to a lab for analysis. In an email to the Examiner on August 30, spokesperson Tracy Barron said the lab results should take two weeks.

Since then, the Examiner has been checking in regularly with Nova Scotia Environment and Climate for updates on the results. In an email on October 15, Barron said the investigation remains open “until staff assess additional information requested from the company about the orange-coloured seepage and staining that was reported in the containment pond.”

Atlantic Mining NS is an affiliate of Atlantic Gold that was acquired in 2019 by an Australian company called 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.

It will be interesting to see which arrive first: the decisions on mines or the decisions on fines.

With files from Joan Baxter.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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