ST. MARY’S – Atlantic Gold’s parent company says it may be forced to shut down its near-capacity operations in Nova Scotia if the province doesn’t allow a stop-gap measure to raise the height of the wall it uses to contain its Touquoy mine’s waste within the next few weeks.
The mine’s closure, which could come as soon as mid-August, would affect 350 employees at the site in Moose River and potentially disrupt the company’s plans for future operations at its nearby development sites in eastern HRM and the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.
In a statement issued June 22, Australian mining company St Barbara stipulated that in 2020, its Atlantic operations “commenced the provincial permitting process to convert the Touquoy open pit into a Tailings Management Facility (TMF) upon completion of open pit mining [there in 2023].”
The statement explained that this “longer-term strategy” had always been in the cards to store waste from future operations at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream mines — development sites in HRM undergoing environmental permitting and public consultations, and tentatively scheduled to become operational within the next two years.
Earlier statements had also included similar provisions at Touquoy for the Cochrane Hill development site — adjacent to the St. Mary’s River near Sherbrooke — not scheduled for production before 2026.
Last month, Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman sent the company back to the drawing board for the second time in less than a year to flesh out its plans at Touquoy, including ground and surface water management, mitigation measures for wetlands, and historic mine tailings storage at the site. “The information provided [by St Barbara] is insufficient to allow me to make a decision,” Halman wrote in his May 12 letter to the company.
According to last week’s statement from St Barbara, the “clarification” sought by the province “late in the process… on aspects” of the conversion application means it won’t have time to complete the work before it runs out of room for its existing tailings from Touquoy. “The longer-term strategy [for Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream] has now become [a] critical path for business continuity as the Touquoy mine approaches end of life.”
Therefore, it said, it has “elected to make an application to raise the existing TMF wall as an interim solution while the in-pit deposition matter is progressed to conclusion. A permit application to lift the wall has been submitted … with a timeframe for a decision … expected to be early August 2022.”
Crucially, the statement added: “Should the TMF lift permit not be approved in early August 2022 there will be insufficient time to allow for the construction of the raise before the current tailings capacity is exhausted in mid-September 2022. This would lead to the operation being suspended and placed in care and maintenance.”
In an email to The Journal last week, Dustin O’Leary, St Barbara’s communications manager for Atlantic Operations, confirmed that such a move “would have a significant effect on the 350 Nova Scotians that are part of St Barbara’s Atlantic Operations at Touquoy, as well as all of the Nova Scotian contractors and suppliers that support our business. Our Company is doing all we can to ensure that our team members have the opportunity to continue to support themselves and their families through our operations on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.”
He added: “As with all other applications submitted to provincial regulators, this application has been discussed between technical experts with St Barbara and Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change. However, no timeline for a determination has been communicated.”
In an email to The Journal last week, Department of the Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Tracy Barron said that government staff “are working on [St. Barbara’s] application now” but that “a decision has not been made.”
She noted that, “Our role as environmental regulator is to ensure we work with industries and companies to ensure sustainable development that benefits Nova Scotians economically, including employment, while protecting the environment. That’s why our staff continue to work with Atlantic Gold to help guide them through the process … Nova Scotians can be assured that the Department is always committed to making decisions on applications as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the mine can continue to operate under existing approvals.”
Meanwhile, a presentation scheduled for last week by St. Barbara Atlantic operations representatives Dustin O’Leary and Shannon Fox to St. Mary’s council, on the potential economic impact of the planned Cochrane Hill mine, was postponed.
“We did have a full agenda with another presentation that day and they [St Barbara] opted to present at a future Committee of the Whole,” said Chief Administrative Officer Marissa Jordan.
According to O’Leary, “St Barbara is working diligently to permit each of its projects in Nova Scotia. Our Company will continue to develop the projects in the months and years ahead and looks forward to gaining the required approvals through the respective federal and provincial government processes.”
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal