The Killag River is an important part of the West River Sheet Harbour watershed, important wild Atlantic salmon habitat, and this photo shows the Killag River just a ston's throw downstream from the site of the proposed Beaver Dam open pit gold mine. Photo: SImon Ryder-Burbidge
The Killag River, part of the West River watershed, is just a stone’s throw from St Barbara / Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia’s proposed Beaver Dam mine. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

The Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA) has fired its latest salvo at plans by Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia, a subsidiary of Australia’s St Barbara Ltd, to open a second large open pit gold mine in Nova Scotia, this one at Beaver Dam about 30 kilometres from its existing Touquoy mine in Moose River, Halifax Regional Municipality.

Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia (AMNS) appears to be the new name for Atlantic Gold, which opened the Moose River mine in 2017, and that St Barbara acquired in 2019 for $722 million.

In a 26-page statement to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC), the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA) detailed its major concerns with Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia’s most recent Environmental Impact Statement to the IAAC for its proposed Beaver Dam gold mine in the West River Sheet Harbour watershed.

On November 26, the Halifax Examiner reported on the mining company’s latest submissions to the IAAC, and on the Millbrook First Nation opposition to the Beaver Dam mine site.

Now the NSSA has added its voice to that strong opposition to the Beaver Dam mine.

The NSSA submission states that the gold mine project “represents a threat to a world class watershed restoration project that we have been working on with numerous partners for more than 20 years.” It adds that:

… the NSSA is engaged in a multi-year initiative to develop strategic, long-term stewardship plans for the West River, the St. Mary’s River, and six other watersheds along the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia. This work is funded by the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk, which recognizes that the West and St. Mary’s Rivers are two of the most ecologically important watersheds for Atlantic Salmon recovery in Eastern Canada. We cannot imagine two locations less suited for extractive projects such as gold mining.

In addition to its proposed mine at Beaver Dam, and one nearby at Fifteen Mile Stream, Atlantic Mining NS also has a mine planned for Cochrane Hill, on the banks of the St. Mary’s River.

As the Halifax Examiner reported in March 2021, the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, which represents more than 25 river associations and their members in the province, has been working for nearly two decades with 20 partners — including First Nations, provincial and federal governments, academia, and local groups and charities — to restore the ecosystem and salmon habitat in the West River watershed, where Beaver Dam is located.

NSSA map showing proposed Beaver Dam mine and the restoration project area

The NSSA West River Acid Rain Mitigation Project has been working to undo the ravages of acid rain on fish populations by applying lime to rivers and adjacent catchment areas. The project has reported great success in helping the recovery of Southern Upland Atlantic Salmon with its river habitat restoration work that reduces threats such as increased water temperatures and barriers to fish migration.

The NSSA lime doser on the Killag River, a tributary of the West River, is just 80 metres downstream from the proposed open pit gold mine.

Killag River lime doser. Photo: Joan Baxter

The NSSA statement notes that the number of juvenile salmon in the limed section of the West River system has tripled because of the aquatic restoration work.

“This is, arguably, one of the most important Atlantic Salmon conservation initiatives in Canada,” says the statement. It continues:

The Beaver Dam Mine, should its development proceed, would be situated in the heart of one of the largest, most innovative, and most successful aquatic ecosystem restoration initiatives in Canada. Industrial development of this watershed would jeopardize more than two decades of hard work, massive investment, and a pronounced, yet still fragile recovery of Atlantic salmon — a COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada] assessed species at risk.

And:

Given the effort and success to date, this proposed watershed-altering and risky open-pit gold mine would deal a significant blow to the morale and momentum of volunteer groups working toward the recovery of our renewable resources and the ecosystems on which they depend. The generic bare-minimum preventative measures outlined in the revised EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] do not reflect the seriousness of the potential for negative impacts to this long-standing and critically important project.

Six major concerns

This is not the first time the NSSA has submitted comments to the federal assessment agency about the Beaver Dam mine project. In 2017, when Atlantic Gold submitted its original plans for the mine — the second of four the company wanted to operate along the Eastern Shore — to the IAAC, the NS Salmon Association responded with four major concerns.

This time round, the NSSA has detailed six major concerns, saying:

…we contend that the company has not made genuine progress toward reducing the potential for significant negative impacts on the area. The revised EIS continues to raise concerns that we feel have not been addressed.

The NSSA summarizes its concerns as:

  • The West River is too valuable to accept any level of risk.
  • The revised EIS does not adequately consider the watershed downstream from the mine footprint.
  • The proposed quarry pit is simply too close to the Killag River (Cameron Flowage).
  • The spatial extent of the proposed work is too large and encroaches on adjacent sub watersheds.
  • The benefits to Nova Scotia are minor relative to the value of the restoration project and the conservation progress already realized.
  • The NSSA generally lacks confidence that Atlantic Gold will prioritize protection of the environment and the West River restoration project.

The battle of the commenters

The public has until December 17 to submit comments to the IAAC about the proposed gold mine in Beaver Dam.

As of December 14, there were more than 50 comments* on the website from people opposed to the mine — some of them strongly opposed to its approval — and 31 in favour of it.

Of those expressing support for the mine, 21 are clearly from people who either work for the mining company or who are closely affiliated with it, many of them beginning with the stock phrase, “As a team member of St Barbara’s Atlantic Operations” and then this boiler plate content:

I am aware that there have been numerous studies, environmental mitigation measures, environmental affects assessments and more submitted to the government to support the Beaver Dam Mine project. I have a high level of confidence in the quality of these studies, and I know that they were completed to the highest of standards. I am confident that through the information already submitted for this project, work with scientists and subject matter experts, engagement with rightsholders, as well as our Company’s consultation with communities around Beaver Dam that this project can be completed safely, while protecting our shared environment and is something that all Nova Scotians can take pride in.

That an open pit gold mine is “something that all Nova Scotians can take pride in” is not a view shared by NSSA Executive Director Brent Locke.

Touquoy open pit gold mine. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

In an interview, Locke told the Examiner that the West River watershed where NSSA has invested so much in fish habitat restoration, like the St Mary’s River watershed where the company wants to open another open pit gold mine, and like the French River watershed that provides Tatamagouche with its water supply and where the province had a plan to promote gold exploration, are all “far too fragile” for gold mines.

Locke said the NSSA is against any gold mine expansion in the province:

We don’t want to see mine creep. This is not just an issue for Beaver Dam and Cochrane Hill and the French River watershed on Warwick Mountain. This has impacts across the whole province. It’s important that this mine [at Beaver Dam] not go through, because if you open that door a crack, it’ll be a little easier for other mining operations and sites to pop up. And that’s one of the things we’re really scared about.

In October, the Examiner reported that the Crown prosecutor handling the environmental prosecution of Atlantic Mining NS on 32 environmental charges and three federal ones, a case that has already been adjourned eight times this year, had reached a tentative plea deal with the company. The deal would have seen Atlantic Mining NS pay a $5,000 fine to the government, and make a $120,000 donation to the NSSA.

The NS Salmon Association would have none of it.

As NSSA executive member Mike Bardsley told the Examiner at the time, “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.”

Asked if the Nova Scotia Salmon Association had been approached a second time to accept a donation from Atlantic Mining NS as part of a plea deal, Locke laughed. “No,” he said. “If they had it would have been a complete waste of their time.”

Said Locke, “The Nova Scotia Salmon Association is against gold mines. Period.”

*Correction: There were 50 comments on the IAAC website, not 100 as originally reported. We regret the error.


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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. That $5000 fine to NS govt and $120k to the federation is a sick joke…whoever made that deal needs to be fired..
    The Bruce McKinnon cartoon in the fri edition of the Chronicle Hereld sums up NS Mining really good….