The price of cleaning up Boat Harbour keeps increasing.
In 2017, the Boat Harbour remediation project was estimated at $204.9 million, but in the intervening five years that price tag has grown to $314.2 million.
Those figures are included in the most recent Auditor General’s report, which looks at the provincial government’s finances. In general, Auditor General Kim Adair found that the province had reliable financial statements and met legislated deadlines, but she found “significant control weaknesses” at two government departments and five government organizations.
Most worrisome is the potential public liabilities for contaminated sites.
The Boat Harbour cleanup is the largest known liability, but it has yet to be approved by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, In June this year, Nova Scotia Lands (now part of Build Nova Scotia) applied to the Impact Assessment Agency for a year’s extension of the deadline for submitting additional information on the project, and now has until August 2024 for that. So when the Boat Harbour remediation project does finally go ahead, the Nova Scotia government may find itself facing even higher costs, although the federal government has pledged to chip in $100 million for the cleanup.
Besides Boat Harbour, there is a large ($52.6 million) but decreasing (from $66.8 million five years ago) liability for the Sydney tar ponds, and various other minor cleanups costing a total of $22.2 million.
But a huge unknown is the cost of cleaning up abandoned mine sites.
There are at least 69 abandoned mine sites in Nova Scotia that are either on Crown land or that the province has accepted responsibility for. But no attempt to put a price tag on cleaning up those mines was made until 2018, when just two abandoned gold mines — at Goldenville and Montague — were assessed; cleanup costs for those two mines were then estimated to be $48 million. In the four years since, that cost has risen to $65.5 million.
Notably, one of the two mine sites first targeted for cleanup at public costs is associated with private development plans. The abandoned Montague mine is adjacent to and upstream from Clayton Development’s Port Wallace subdivision now under construction in Dartmouth.
Five more of the 69 abandoned mines are now being assessed but there is not yet a costed liability for them. Adair doesn’t name the sites, but says they include three gold mines, one coal mine, and one celestite mine. See the complete list of abandoned mines here.
“There continues to be a risk of not identifying unaddressed human health or ecological concerns, as well as not fully understanding the potential financial exposure related to future remediation and monitoring costs associated with abandoned mine sites,” writes Adair.
In other words: the sky’s the limit when it comes to the costs of cleaning up abandoned mine sites.
But just as the province is beginning to grapple with the potentially enormous costs of cleaning up historic mining sites, it is additionally embarking on opening much of the province to new mining constituting a “fourth gold rush,” with unknown future liabilities.
Other ‘control weaknesses’
Besides the liabilities for environmental cleanup, Adair found six “financial shortfalls at the”control weaknesses” at Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services related to “insufficient purchasing and payment processing controls, including purchasing goods and services without preapproval and not monitoring established procedures.”
Some of those problems date back as far as seven years ago. Adair says that the department is making progress in addressing the problems, but still has not completely resolved them.
There are five other government organizations with control problems.
Housing Nova Scotia, Sherbrooke Restoration Commission, and Perennia Food and Agriculture have not resolved previously identified problems, and Housing Nova Scotia has a new problem. Two other organizations — Nova Scotia Education Common Services Bureau and Nova Scotia Crop and Livestock Insurance Commission — also have newly identified problems. Adair notes that while the problems identified won’t substantially affect the province’s overall financial position, they may affect the ability of the organizations to serve their purpose.
On the positive side, a handful of other government organizations have completely resolved previously identified control issues.