ST. MARY’S – Australian mining company St Barbara is, once again, trying to find gold in Cochrane Hill, near Sherbrooke.
Months after all but abandoning its controversial bid to build an open pit mine in the area — partly due to uncertainty over the provincial government’s deliberations on wilderness protection for surrounding Archibald Lake watershed — St Barbara told its investors last week that it will “continue exploration at Cochrane Hill” in 2024.
In a July 5 circular, entitled Investor Roadshow, Managing Director and CEO of the Perth-based company Andrew Strelein explained that among his “strategy focus areas” for Atlantic Operations (formerly Atlantic Gold) will be “an initial diamond drill program comprising 25 holes for 2,500 [metres] ... to test prospective stratigraphy along... the Cochrane Hill Deposit. The program will also assist with potential sterilisation for locating operations infrastructure.”
In an email to The Journal on July 7, the company’s Atlantic Operations Spokesperson, Kenny Cameron, explained that “the proposed exploration program is not part of any new development application,” but rather “a standard practice [that also] takes place at other prospective locations.”
As for why St Barbara now plans to spend money and time exploring an area that could soon become off limits altogether to industrial mining, Cameron said, “St Barbara remains committed to understanding the full extent of the Cochrane Hill mineralisation and proposes additional exploration drilling... in and around a known mineral resource... all within the former proposed Cochrane Hill project area... for that purpose only.”
He added that “St Barbara remains committed to all current and future projects in Nova Scotia and continues to engage and work with local residents, local governments and rights’ holders in all areas where we operate or propose to operate, including for this Cochrane Hill exploration drilling.”
Cameron noted, specifically, that while “exploration drilling permits have been approved by the provincial government for Cochrane Hill,” those permits “have not been acted upon while St Barbara is undertaking further consultation with First Nations communities and non-Indigenous communities before any ground works commence.”
In separate emails to the Journal, St. Mary’s Warden Greg Wier and St. Mary’s River Association President Scott Beaver stated that St. Barbara has not reached out to either of them concerning the new drilling program.
Beaver, who has represented the citizens’ group No Open Pit Excavation at Cochrane Hill, or N.O.P.E., added, “It greatly concerns us that Atlantic Gold seems to be sinking more capital into what they have previously referred to as its ‘string of pearls.’ Since the company was removed from the federal environmental process at Cochrane Hill, they must now re-apply for a new project without the comfort of the old legislation. The new 2019 legislation is more stringent.”
In a presentation to St. Mary’s council last July, St Barbara’s Atlantic Operations Community Engagement Specialist Shannon Ashe-Fox confirmed that the company’s focus on its other gold-bearing properties in Nova Scotia had pushed the opening of its proposed open pit mine at Cochrane Hill to 2026, or later.
In later statements, St. Barbara described the project as a future “eastern production hub” for it in that part of Nova Scotia, but acknowledged uncertainty over the provincial wilderness designation and announced it was dropping its application for federal environmental approval of the actual facility.
Explained Cameron in his email last week, “The project description for Cochrane Hill was terminated by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) on Aug. 29, 2022, as St Barbara chose not to provide the required information or studies within the legislated time limit of Aug. 28, 2022, and did not apply for an extension to the deadline either.”
In May, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change released its long-awaited report on Archibald Lake, which concluded that the 684-hectare tract of provincially owned woodland, lakes and wetlands — if turned into a protected area — could be worth as much as $4 million a year to the province. That, it said, factored in “the value of natural ecosystems to society, typically referred to as ‘ecosystem services’, including carbon storage and sequestration; conservation of species and genetic resources; water quality; and maintenance of habitat for pollinators, wildlife, and recreation.”
While not calling it an explicit endorsement of wilderness protection — which would effectively ban major extractive industries, such as open pit mining — Beaver told The Journal at the time: “We are confident that Environment and Climate Change Minister Timothy Halman and the cabinet will soon make a positive decision on this matter.”
In his email last week, Beaver said, “This [drilling program] is a new development, indeed... [but] Atlantic Gold simply can’t be trusted with Nova Scotia’s fresh water or the riparian zones they want to work within.”