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St Barbara confirms ‘commitment’ to Cochrane Hill gold mine

Opponents vow to continue fight against open-pit extraction plan

  • August 23 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

COCHRANE HILL – In the wake of a major reorganization last week of its Nova Scotia mining interests, Australia-based St Barbara says it remains “committed to the gold project at Cochrane Hill.”

Uncertainty over the provincial government’s deliberations on wilderness protection for the surrounding Archibald Lake watershed seemed to put the four-year-old project on the back burner last August, when St Barbara failed to submit required information to Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, allowing the regulator to terminate its evaluation of the proposed mine.

But in the clearest indication in more than a year of its intention to commercialize mining at Cochrane Hill (Melrose), near Sherbrooke, and the ecologically delicate St. Mary’s River, the company stated in an email to The Journal on Aug. 18: “The planned work is focused on designing a project which reduces interactions within sensitive environmental and social receptors identified through... feedback from the public, stakeholders, and First Nations communities.

As a result, it said, “The Company remains committed to the gold project at Cochrane Hill... [which] will create hundreds of long-term, well-paying jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity in rural Nova Scotia, much of it within the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.”

It added: “This latest announcement was communicated to the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Warden, Deputy Warden and other municipal officials. We look forward to engaging with them in the months and years ahead.”

In an interview with The Journal, Deputy Warden James Fuller confirmed that, while he and other members of local government did receive an email from St Barbara, they had no comment “at this time” about the company’s plans for Cochrane Hill other than: “We expect to review the matter in the near future.”

Although St Barbara has not set a specific timeline for commercial development of Cochrane Hill, it told its investors last month that it intended to “continue exploration” there next year, including “an initial diamond drill program comprising 25 holes for 2,500 metres... to test prospective stratigraphy along... the deposit. The program will also assist with potential sterilisation for locating operations infrastructure.”

Last week’s news came as the company completely reset its priorities in Nova Scotia, where it also maintains properties and interests at Touquoy (Mooseland), Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream. “With mining activities concluding at Touquoy, the Company’s priority will pivot to the Fifteen Mile Stream Gold Project,” St Barbara Managing Director and CEO Andrew Strelein stated in an Aug. 15 press release.

“The Company’s Atlantic Province Plan was built on the concept of having a central gold recovery facility at Touquoy where the final gold recovery step would take place for nearby projects. As no additional tailings capacity has been permitted at the Touquoy Mine and reclamation activities are set to begin in the coming months, the Fifteen Mile Stream Gold Project will be redesigned to allow the relocation of the Touquoy Processing Facility including the equipment for the final gold recovery step.”

He added: “Extensive engagement on the Fifteen Mile Stream Gold Project has taken place leading up to this point. The input received from the public, stakeholders, and Mi’kmaq communities will also now be taken into account in the revised design. Much of that feedback has already been able to be incorporated into redesign work and we are excited to show that work in future engagement.”

Meanwhile, he said, the Beaver Dam Gold Project was placed on hold in 2022 to “facilitate further engagement with community and investigate potential alternatives to overcome concerns expressed with the design that was put forward... St Barbara will now remove [that] project from the Federal and Provincial Environmental Assessment process.”

Regarding Cochrane Hill, he said, “Geological investigations continue at the Cochrane Hill Gold Project. We will continue to provide updates and engage with the public, stakeholder, and First Nation communities as we progress... We are deeply committed to investment in development in rural Nova Scotia and remain grateful for the opportunities we have been given to engage with your communities and look forward to continuing our discussions in the future.”

In a subsequent statement to The Journal, the company said, “Constructive engagement with regulators is required for all of our current and future projects in the province and would allow the company to focus on the benefits of our operations — including rural job creation and investment — all work occurring at Cochrane Hill is standard practice in identifying and delineating underground resources and will be conducted under appropriate permits that include environmental protection measures.”

Reaction to the news from local environmental and conservation groups, who oppose St. Barbara’s large-scale mineral extraction plans here, and in its other priority areas in rural Nova Scotia, was swift.

“All St Barbara is doing here is rearranging the sequence of their proposed mining activity,” said Deirdre Green, the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s Nova Scotia program director, in an email. “They likely still intend to do three more mines and we don’t support any of them. We remain 100 per cent opposed to Beaver Dam, where millions of dollars have been invested in river restoration and salmon recovery. An open pit mine 50 metres from the Killag River, an area that has been the focus of extensive restoration and research efforts by the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, will never be acceptable.”

As for Cochrane Hill, she said, “We remain 100 per cent opposed. [It’s] situated directly next to the St. Mary’s River. Groups like the St. Mary’s River Association and Nova Scotia Salmon Association are winning the long-term fight to restore Atlantic salmon to the river. We are seeing increased spawning activity, more multi-sea winter fish and more juveniles. It’s undeniable that the work being completed on the St. Mary’s River continues to yield positive results for the wild Atlantic salmon population and for the watershed in its entirety.”

Said St. Mary’s River Association President Scott Beaver in an email: “With the relative proximity from Fifteen Mile Stream to Cochrane Hill, I am concerned that there may be more in store. St. Mary’s River Association and our affiliates are still here on the ground and we still say: no open pit excavation.”

Added Green: “We will defend wild Atlantic salmon and their natal rivers to our grave. We will never support these mines. Giant open-pit gold mines cannot be allowed on these watersheds — period.”

Cochrane Hill’s estimated 400,000 ounces of recoverable gold — worth approximately $520 million in 2019 — is valued at $760 million on world markets.