ST. MARY’S – Finding themselves stuck ‘between a rock and a hard place,’ councillors for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s have again kicked the can down the road on the contentious issue of wilderness protection for Archibald Lake.
For the third time in a year—at its committee of the whole meeting on May 11—local officials have refused to endorse the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) position urging the provincial government to designate 684 hectares of woods, lakes and wetlands in the Archibald Brook watershed a wilderness area.
The designation creating the green belt would, among other things, seriously hinder plans by Australian mining company St. Barbara to build and operate an open pit gold mine at nearby Cochrane Hill—a project the SMRA vigorously opposes, but which could also bring up to 100 new jobs to the area if it is commissioned in 2028.
“We’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one,” said District 7 Councillor Everett Baker, before voting, along with council, to table the matter for six months. “Those who are for it are going to hate us, and those who are against it are going to hate us. So, we’re obliged to stay neutral if we expect to get re-elected.”
Added District 1 Councillor Courtney Mailman: “I understand why the river association has great concern. [But] speaking for myself, I’d like to sit tight and have a little more information on what it is hoping to achieve with the designation.”
During a presentation to council earlier this year, SMRA president Scott Beaver pointed out that the scenic area is used and enjoyed by sport fishers, hunters and campers—activities that would be permitted under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act. Resource extraction industries, however, would be forbidden to operate within the designated tract.
At the committee of the whole last week, Warden Greg Wier said, “If you want to use this land to draw people here, why not petition the government to let some Crown land be released for sale so that people can come and live on the river? To me that is more viable. Then you bring people in, not necessarily keep people away.”
Last July, council first chose to remain neutral on the status of the lake and environs, a position that prompted Beaver to accuse it of “shirking” its duty. At the time, Deputy Warden James Fuller said, “As a council, we can’t have a dog in that fight. That’s a federal and provincial permitting issue. It’s really not up to us now. We just need to kind of stay neutral in this.”
Last week, Fuller seemed to have changed his tune somewhat. “This time, the river association has sent us a very nice letter, this time really pointing out the value of the watershed, the value of the lake, assurances that the area would still be used for recreational purpose. It really is much better than the [last] letter which was so anti-gold mine.”
Still, Fuller made the motion, seconded by Baker, to delay.
“The motion to table the request for submitting a letter supporting the designation of Archibald Lake as a wilderness area for six months has been carried,” Wier said, before the meeting adjourned.