By Richard Bell
The fate of Atlantic Gold’s ambitious plan for four open-pit gold mines along the Eastern Shore, which the company once called “a string of pearls,” is in the hands of provincial and federal regulators. Meanwhile the company is facing 32 charges under the province’s Environmental Act, although the courts have thus far allowed the company one postponement after another.
At the provincial level, Atlantic Gold (now owned by the Australian mining company St. Barbara) secured permission in 2008 to open its first mine, which it named Touquoy, near the old Moose River gold mine. To handle the tailings resulting from the gold extraction process,
Atlantic Gold proposed and built a three-stage state of the art system for treating tailings, using a lined tailings pond, followed by a polishing pond, and finally an engineered wetland.
The Touquoy mine would be exhausted in a few years. But Atlantic Gold planned to start up a 2nd open pit mine, Beaver Dam, to go into production when Touquoy was exhausted.
But instead of building a new processing complex and tailings treatment facilities at Beaver Dam, the company proposed to put the ore onto a fleet of trucks and ship it to the processing plant in Touquoy. The company let it be known that it was considering using this same truck-shipping method for two more mines, at Fifteen Mile Stream and Cochrane Hill.
Using a single processing plant would save money. But the tailings from processing the Beaver Dam mine would be a problem. The tailings pond at Touquoy was designed to hold the tailings from that one mine. There was no room from tailings from any other mines. The Touquoy mine would be full some time in 2022.
So on July 16, 2021, the company applied to the province to allow it to simply dump the tailings from Beaver Dam straight into the exhausted open pit created during the mining of the ore for Touquoy. As numerous parties quickly pointed out, the Touquoy hole was created by extensive blasting of bedrock, producing untold cracks and fissures through which untreated water could find its way into groundwater, and eventually into lakes and streams.
On September 8, 2021, Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman issued a letter to Atlantic Gold stating that “the Registration Document provided is insufficient to allow me to make a decision, and that I require additional information. Halman’s request for more information began with questions about the “In-pit tailings disposal,” followed by “Ground and Surface Water.”
Meanwhile the Beaver Dam project has generated much more organized opposition than the Touquoy mine, at least in part because people are starting to ask the regulators to treat all four mines as a single project, rather than as four isolated projects.
The project requires building a haul road through a wetlands area. There would be dozens of round-trip truck trips all day and into the evening on a year-round schedule generating noise, air pollution, and artificial light at night. The road would also cut through the habitat of the endangered mainland moose.
Runoff from the mine into local streams would threaten the longstanding and extensive endangered Atlantic Salmon restoration project on the West River, Sheet Harbour, jeopardizing past investments of millions of dollars to reduce the acidity of the river.
And in what may turn out to be the most significant obstacle of all, the Millbrook First Nation has come out against the project. On June 8, 2021, Chief Robert Gloade and 12 Councillors of the Millbrook First Nation sent a letter to Atlantic Gold in which they concluded that after conducting several studies, “we, Millbrook First Nations, do not support the proposed Beaver Dam mine site.”