Public feedback is being welcomed on proposed changes to the province's only operating gold mine.
Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia Inc., which is better known by its corporate name, Atlantic Gold, has been extracting gold at its Touquoy mine in Moose River, N.S., since 2017 and is expected to be in production until 2024.
But certain storage areas are already at capacity and the company wants to change the way it manages them.
The area where the tailings — the waste materials left over after gold has been extracted from rock — are being stored is expected to be filled by March 2022. Atlantic Gold wants to store the tailings in the open pit instead, once the pit is finished being mined next year.
The pit would be allowed to fill with groundwater and precipitation, and when the water level reaches a certain elevation, it will seep out into Moose River.
The company says it plans to treat the water by adjusting the pH in the water-filled, open-pit "lake" so it meets the standards for water quality to be discharged into the river. If testing shows it needs more treatment, it would be pumped to a treatment facility before it is released.
Asked why the tailings facility was already nearing capacity even though the company plans to continue processing ore — including stockpiled ore — until 2024, company spokesperson Dustin O'Leary said that's because in 2019, the company remediated 50,000 tonnes of historic gold tailings from the late 1800s and early 1900s and the province allowed them to be stored in the facility, which reduced its capacity for regular operations.
The storage area for waste rock — low-grade rock that was removed but not processed for gold — reached its capacity earlier this year, and Atlantic Gold is currently using the open pit to store the excess.
The company wants to expand the designated storage area for waste rock to 42 hectares from 35 hectares, a project that would affect wetlands and require the relocation of an access road. In order to relocate the road, Atlantic Gold is also requesting permission from the province to allow it to extract clay from an extra six hectares of its land.
O'Leary said the reason the waste rock storage area has already run out of room is that the area was reduced in 2017 to make room for collection ponds to capture and treat water.
Atlantic Gold says the changes could affect water quality, groundwater and fish habitat, but it does not expect there to be significant residual environmental effects.
The proposal is open for public feedback until Aug. 16, and the environment minister will make a decision on or before Sept. 5.
Atlantic Gold has three other proposed mines in varying stages of environmental assessment. The company says those projects — Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mile Stream and Cochrane Hill — would likely use the processing facilities at Touquoy, but those uses would go through separate approval processes.
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