Friday, March 1, 2024

Atlantic Gold pleads guilty

Mining company faces sentencing on two environmental violations

  • February 9 2022
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ST. MARY’S – The Atlantic operations of Australian mining company St Barbara has pleaded guilty to breaches of provincial and federal environment laws at its Touquoy gold mine near Moose River, Nova Scotia.

The pleas, entered in provincial court on Feb. 4, were related to two charges laid by the provincial and federal governments against Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia (AMNS) last year: failure to test the quality of surface water run-off from its mine road; and failure to notify and report to authorities as required by law.

The company was originally charged with 32 infractions but, according to media reports, the number was reduced after protracted negotiations between lawyers for both sides reached agreement. Asked to elaborate on the nature of the other 30 charges, and whether they have been conflated by mutual assent, AMNS spokesperson Dustin O’Leary did not comment.

In a statement, St Barbara stipulated that “AMNS neglected to notify and report to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) as required in every instance and failed to test the quality of the surface water run-off as required by federal regulations,” adding: “The incidents were a breach of our commitment to care for the environment as we conduct our operations. For this, we are very sorry.”

According to Scott Beaver, president pf the St. Mary’s River Association and organizer of the anti-gold mining group No Open Pit Excavation, “St Barbara has repeatedly demonstrated a callous disregard for environmental regulations and has now been convicted both provincially and federally for serious infractions.”

St Barbara is working through the environmental assessment process for three new developments that, if successful, would greenlight open pit gold mines at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream in central Nova Scotia, and Cochrane Hill, near Sherbrooke, over the next three years.

Said Beaver: “A company with such a track record cannot safely operate four open-pit mines in such an ecologically sensitive area – an area which is documented as prime habitat for the endangered mainland moose and is also home to two of Nova Scotia’s most comprehensive Atlantic salmon habitat restoration programs.”

In its statement, St Barbara said, “These incidents resulted from a combination of certain haul road design components, such as grading, construction materials, and sizing/placement of storm water infrastructure. The surfaces of the haul roads are subject to wear from normal traffic and hauling activities, which cause the construction materials to reduce to a fine powder-like particle size. During significant rainfall events some storm water, containing suspended sediment from the road materials, either ran through the road bedding or overwhelmed the storm water management system and reached a small watercourse.”

The company also noted that, since it acquired AMNS, it has “invested approximately $2,500,000 to study, design, construct and operate a robust solution to prevent further run-off based on best practice in storm water management in collaboration with specialist engineers.”

These measures, it said, should “ensure even closer oversight by the company during rainfall events and close contact with regulators … [exceeding] the expectations of regulators and our community to protect the local environment in the areas where we operate.”

The plea was announced the day after St Barbara’s president of the Americas Meryl Jones addressed the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s council for the first time.

“We are committed to each one of [our four] projects [in Nova Scotia],” she told council’s committee of the whole on Feb. 2. “For us to be able to do that and to work with our community stakeholders and rights holders … open communications, collaborations and partnerships are really important to us. We work with a philosophy where we are as much part of the community as the community is a part of us.”

The company expects to begin mining at the Cochrane Hill location, following environmental approvals, sometime in 2026. “Despite the fact that Cochrane Hill is quite long dated, really, there is still at work that is going on in the background and studies that are ongoing,” Jones said. “St. Barbara will be relying very, very heavily on local people that will help us resource [that project]. Those long term job opportunities, the way that we see them, are very much local.”

Provincial Judge Alanna Murphy is expected to deliver her sentencing decision regarding the Touquoy operation soon.