On Wednesday, St Barbara Ltd hosted an “open house” in Sheet Harbour to “share information about changes and updates” to its plans for an open pit gold mine in Fifteen Mile Stream, located in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary. The mine is one of three the Australian company hopes to open on the Eastern Shore, in addition to its existing Touquoy mine in Moose River.
Following that meeting, Deirdre Green, Nova Scotia program director for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, tweeted that she was “extremely concerned” about the “extensive changes” made to the Fifteen Mile Stream mine proposal.
In an email to the Halifax Examiner, Green says the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) was not expecting to see the changes presented by St Barbara on Wednesday.
“However, we are not surprised to see them employing the strategy of a short-notice meeting in a rural community to communicate impactful project expansions,” says Green.
Green also has concerns about the way the meeting was organized:
The posters were set up in a semi-circle for attendees to rotate through, while St Barbara and their consultants kept a watchful eye over the room. They were quick to interject and disrupt any conversations between ASF and community members.
When asked if the purpose of this meeting was to meet a consulting requirement, OR to make the public aware of these changes, St Barbara told us that they did send a community mailing out to advise of these changes. However, the community members I spoke to did not seem to be aware of the changes, nor had they received such a mailing.
Elizabeth Jones, an environmental scientist and board member of the St. Mary’s River Association, tells the Examiner that she found the evening session of the open house “upsetting.” Jones says she counted only six members of the public present, and they were far outnumbered by St Barbara representatives and employees. When Jones asked questions, there was a lot of “defensiveness,” she says, and she was surrounded by St Barbara employees that made it feel, to her, like a “bully scene.”
Jones believes that the changes to the project that were presented in posters at the open house are “extremely drastic” and says St Barbara should either have to submit the new and changed proposal all over again for environmental assessment “from scratch,” or it should be scrapped.
The Examiner sent an email to St Barbara community relations to request copies of the posters at yesterday’s open house, and to St Barbara Ltd for reaction to some of these concerns. As of publication time, answers had yet to be received. When they are we will update this article.
St Barbara tells regulator these are ‘minor changes’
One of those present at the open house last evening was Sara Wallace, head of permitting for Australia’s St Barbara Ltd.
In June this year, Wallace wrote to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to request an extension to the three-year time limit on the impact assessment for the Fifteen Mile Stream mine.
Wallace was concerned that if the extension under the 2012 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act wasn’t granted, the company would have to restart the impact assessment under the far more stringent Impact Assessment Act passed in 2019 by the Trudeau Liberal government.
So Wallace asked for, and in August received, a three-year extension from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC). That means St Barbara that owns Atlantic Gold and Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia, which operates the Touquoy mine in Moose River, has until August 2025 to provide the IAAC with the information and studies it has asked for.
In her application to IAAC for the extension, Wallace wrote:
The nature of the Project and operational aspects remain very similar to the current Project Description. Current Project changes reflect optimization efforts related to environmental protection, Project life, and economic and community benefits. The guidelines for the Project therefore remain valid; however, minor Project changes necessitate some complementary baseline data collection and updating of effects assessment work. (emphasis added)
In the very next paragraph, Wallace wrote that the key project changes were “three additional pits” at the mine.
The original proposal, which was submitted to IAAC in 2018, involved only one open pit at Fifteen Mile Stream.
The mine project then … and now
Fifteen Mile Stream is one of the three open pit gold mines St Barbara plans to open on the Eastern Shore to ensure continuous gold production once its Touquoy mine is exhausted. The plan has always been to crush the raw ore at those new mines, and truck it back to Moose River on public and private roads, for final processing of the ore and gold extraction.
Atlantic Gold, which was acquired by St Barbara for $722 million in 2019, originally referred to the Nova Scotia mines as the “Moose River Consolidated Project.”
When Atlantic Gold first submitted the Fifteen Mile Stream mine project to the IAAC in May 2018, it stated that the mine would be a satellite of the Touquoy mine, and would process approximately two million tonnes of gold-bearing ore per year for six years. The ore, according to the original plan, would be hauled 76 kilometres overland on “existing highways” — #374, to Highway 7, through Sheet Harbour and onto the Mooseland Road —from Fifteen Mile Stream to Moose River for final processing. The mine would have a single open pit, and for that, 1.3 km of the Seloam Brook would have to be diverted.
Contrast that with the changes presented in a poster at the open house in Sheet Harbour.
First, there will be four open pits, not just one.
The mine will operate not for six years as originally planned, or seven as St Barbara later said, but for “up to 10 years,” according to a poster at the open house.
The “slurry concentrate” that will be trucked overland to Moose River for final processing will not be dewatered and dry as previously planned.
There will be nine haul roads involving “watercourse crossing structures” rather than the two in original plans.
Nor did the original plans for Fifteen Mile Stream involve any explosives storage at the site. Now, according to the summary of project changes provided at the open house, there will have to be “explosive storage and access road development” at the site.
The poster on changes at the mine says that now the company will have to divert 1.9 kilometres rather than earlier figures of 1.3 km and 800 metres of Seloam Brook into an “engineered” channel.
The lack of precision and changes in the facts and figures provided for this project over the years is remarkable.
At an open house hosted by Atlantic Gold in March 2018, a year before the company was acquired by St Barbara, a consultant from McCallum Environmental Ltd told me the mine would operate for 5.5 years, and that there would be 10 trucks a day hauling the arsenic-laden ore overland to the Moose River site, although she could not specify the size or tonnage of those trucks.
Jones tells the Examiner that at yesterday’s open house she asked the same question about the number of trucks per day that will be hauling ore on public roads between Fifteen Mile Stream and the Touquoy mine site.
St Barbara’s Sara Wallace told her there would be 9 to 11 trucks per day, while a consultant from Stantec said there would be six or seven.
When she questioned the consultant about the conflicting numbers, he replied that they didn’t “know the details.”
Jones also asked one of the St Barbara representatives how the company could change the number of pits when its environmental impact assessment was so far advanced, and had already cost public servants at the IAAC and other government departments in Nova Scotia and Ottawa so much time.
Jones was told the extra pits were “already in the works” and the company had “been planning that, they just hadn’t put it in the initial environmental assessment.” Jones says the representative said the company wasn’t sure where the gold was, and they had to look for it before they could put the additional pits into the plan.
In Jones’ view, not only should the Fifteen Mile Stream project have to start a whole new environmental assessment based on the new proposal, there needs to be an impact assessment of the cumulative effects of all four sites St Barbara wants to operate on the Eastern Shore.
In her email to the Examiner, Deirdre Green of the Atlantic Salmon Federation writes:
ASF’s position remains that open pit gold mines do not belong in Nova Scotia. In a short period of time operating within our province, Atlantic Gold has proven a shockingly poor record in respecting both federal and provincial environmental regulations. When we brought this up last evening, consultants quickly retorted that this speaks to the “operating experience AG now has” and that they can apply this experience to future operations. That’s a great attempt at a spin but Nova Scotians don’t buy such foolishness.
Green says that Atlantic Gold was a corporation, “staffed with experts who came to Nova Scotia with extensive operating experience, and they failed to comply with laws set to protect the environment because they knew they could — with minimal repercussions. The biodiversity and ecological value of these regions are far too great to risk.”
And regardless of who owns them, Green says, “The proposed mines are nothing more than short-term, smash-and-grab mining operations that will devastate precious habitat while generating wealth for a select few.”