Touquoy gold mine at Moose River. Photo courtesy Raymond Plourde/ Ecology Action Centre

Yesterday Tim Halman, Nova Scotia’s new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, released a decision that rejected proposed modifications to Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine at Moose River in the Halifax Regional Municipality. 

Halman decided that the Registration Document submitted under the province’s Environment Act by Atlantic Gold’s subsidiary Atlantic Mining NS, which operates the Touquoy mine, “is insufficient to make a decision and that additional information is required” from the operator.

The Touquoy gold mine is 63km northeast of Halifax and 19km southeast of Middle Musquodoboit. According to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSE), the proposed changes include using the depleted Touquoy open pit to deposit mine tailings, expanding the storage area for waste rock and clay removal, and realigning the road used to access the mill facility and offices. The approved area of the existing mine development is approximately 271 hectares; the proposed project modifications would add an additional 18 hectares. 

If Atlantic Mining NS, owned by Australia’s St Barbara Ltd, had received the green light from the province, it intended to start work immediately on the road and waste rock area. Depositing the tailings in the open pit was slated to have begun in 2022, and would finish whenever the gold mine is no longer producing. 

The Touquoy open pit gold mine at Moose River is just the first of four mines that St Barbara has planned for the Eastern Shore — the other three are at Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mine Stream, and Cochrane Hill near Sherbrooke on the banks of the St. Mary’s River. The company plans to truck crushed ore from the three other mines to Moose River for processing, which would result in the production of more tailings requiring storage at the Touquoy site.

The Minister’s decision states Atlantic Mining NS must provide more information regarding the disposal of in-pit mine tailings, dealing with ground and surface water, protecting fish and fish habitat, wildlife, wetlands, and historical mine tailings.

The ground water and surface water runoff issues are the same concerns that led to the laying of 32 charges under the NS Environment Act last year, as reported by Joan Baxter here. 

Three more charges were laid in April under the federal Fisheries Act related to sedimentation that occurred over a two-year period and affected brooks near the Moose River mine and clay pit. 

Atlantic Mining NS has yet to enter a plea on any of those charges. The company was in provincial court this morning, September 9, where its lawyer and those representing the government said they are close to finalizing an agreement that would resolve the charges. The matter was adjourned, for the fifth time, until October 4.

Meanwhile, the Environment Minister’s September 8 decision, available in full here, gives the company a long list of tasks to fulfil, and directs it to take the following actions to deal with groundwater and runoff from the mine site:

 – Provide a third-party expert review of the ground and surface water modelling presented and referenced in the Environmental Assessment Registration Document (EARD). 

 – Describe current and potential impacts to Watercourse #4 in the EARD including any monitoring data not included in the EARD submission. 

– Provide a more detailed analysis and clarify the impacts to Moose River currently, and as a result of the proposed project.

 – In consultation with the Inspection and Compliance Division and Water Resources Branch at Environment and Climate Change, clarify or provide information related to water quality and quantity analysis inconsistencies.

Tailings and wildlife

If Atlantic Mining NS wants to expand its footprint, the Minister’s decision states it will also have to figure out what to do with the toxic legacy from earlier gold mining operations in the area, when mercury was used to process the ore and tailings laden with mercury and arsenic left behind. 

Halman’s decision further instructs Atlantic Mining NS to:

• Provide a description and map of historic mine tailings within or near the proposed project footprint. Provide a plan to manage the historic tailings;

• Provide all fish surveys and relevant data that has been completed at or near the Touquoy site;

• Conduct fish sampling in Moose River;

• Provide an analysis of potential impacts to the Ship Harbour Long Lake Wilderness Area and proposed mitigations.

Atlantic Mining NS has one year to submit the additional information to the province. 

The Examiner has reached out to St. Barbara Ltd for comment on the Minister’s decision and whether the company intends to pursue the expansion. A joint federal and provincial environmental assessment is currently underway for two new gold mines St Barbara has proposed at Beaver Dam, about 30kmss from its Touquoy operations, and Fifteen Mile Stream, 76 km from Moose River. The company recently announced that plans to open a third new mine at Cochrane Hill have been delayed until 2028. The company has yet to respond.

Update: Atlantic Gold spokesperson Dustin O’Leary, sends the following comment:

The Environmental Assessment submission that we submitted to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in August was fulsome and prepared following a scoping process with department officials. The Minister has requested further information and we will work with the government to promptly provide more detail.

We appreciate the Province’s commitment to providing Nova Scotians with comfort and clarity in the environmental assessment process and recognize the importance of demonstrating the steps we are taking to protect the local environment.

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

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  1. looks like a good first step for the new minister. One other issue that no one in government seems to ask is what are the economic impacts on the local community & province – revenues lost and gained, infrastructure damaged/repaired, impact on tourism, subsidies provided to Atlantic Gold vs. subsidies to encourage local business, costs of forest loss (eg: loss carbon sink, selective hardwood cutting & sale, effect on wildlife and water table when a forest is cleared for tailings storage & new infrastructure.