ST. MARY’S – Atlantic Gold Corporation has delayed the opening of its Cochrane Hill mine by as much as three years, putting the controversial facility at the bottom of its list of immediate priorities.
“In Dec. 2020, it was announced as part of an investor briefing by St. Barbara that the timeline for the development of the Cochrane Hill gold mine project had been pushed back,” Atlantic Gold Communications Manager Dustin O’Leary said during a presentation to the committee of the whole of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s on Jan. 6.
“At this point, it is anticipated that the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) preparations will be completed in Q4 (fourth quarter) 2024 with an anticipated opening in 2026,” he said, adding: “This is primarily due to the need to focus on the sequencing of all of the expansion projects and specifically our efforts to advance Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream.”
According to a transcript posted to St. Barbara’s website, Atlantic Gold General Manager for Operations Laird Brownlie told a Dec. 15 meeting of the Australian conglomerate’s investors: “For Fifteen Mile Stream, we are anticipating the permitting process to continue until an EIS approval in Q4 of 2022 … with all the approvals received by Q4 of 2023. Production would be scheduled to begin in Q4 of 2024. For Cochrane Hill, the time horizon appears to be a little longer, but the focus will be on getting Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream approved and into production, then focusing Atlantic Operation's efforts on advancing the Cochrane Hill project as seamlessly as possible.”
Construction at Cochrane Hill was scheduled to begin in 2022, creating 731 jobs. “It is anticipated … the mine would begin operating in 2023 … creating 321 jobs during the six-year project lifespan,” Atlantic Gold’s website says.
It also reports that the Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile projects near Shearwater are expected to generate about 220 and 298 jobs, respectively, during their four-to-six-year lifespans. Both projects were expected to begin operations in 2022, pending approvals.
Atlantic Gold operates the Touquoy Mine at Moose River in Middle Musquodoboit, which its website says provides full-time employment to over 300 Nova Scotians and produces more than 90,000 ounces of gold a year: “The Moose River Mine is an anchor employer in a rural part of Nova Scotia that provides high-paying jobs (average of $84,000/year).”
In his address to investors last month, Brownlie said, “Touquoy will sustain Atlantic Operations until FY 2023 when Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream are scheduled to take over the majority of the production profile of Atlantic Operations.”
He added: “As we conduct our operations in regional Nova Scotia, we are committed to engaging with our community and value the opportunity to be part of a community in which our employees reside.”
Announced in 2018, Cochrane Hill has generated nearly constant public controversy thanks to its proximity to the St. Mary’s River valley where, in recent years, the federal and Nova Scotia governments have spent millions of dollars helping local conservationists restore wildlife species, such as the Atlantic salmon.
In an email, St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) President Scott Beaver – who has opposed the project from its inception – said that, while the delay is unexpected, he remains concerned about Atlantic Gold’s long-term plans for the area.
“Pushing the schedule back for the expected completion of the EIA and the expected construction is all news to us here in Sherbrooke,” he said. “SMRA holds solid to our stance that this massive project is highly risky in an ecologically sensitive area and we do not support Atlantic Gold's efforts to bring open pit mining into our community. Some locations for open pit mines are, simply put, not appropriate.”
In the presentation to the committee of the whole last week, O’Leary said: “St. Barbara and Atlantic Gold have made a commitment to coexist with the surrounding environment where we operate, and that includes the St. Mary’s River. It is important to note that the Moose River Gold Mine spent nearly $18 million on environmental protections in 2018-19 and over $14 million in 2019-20. As part of that, Moose River completed a massive effort to remediate over 50,000 tonnes of historic mine tailings…. We would do the same at Cochrane Hill … we would assume we would do the same thing there.”