A Cochrane Hill gold mine information session Aug. 19 in Sherbrooke wasn’t necessarily designed to be a rally against the proposed mine operation by Atlantic Gold, but it certainly evolved into one.
Organized by concerned community members and the St. Mary’s River Association, the more than three-hour meeting featured a panel of well-versed speakers who addressed different concerns they had about the project.
Held at the Sherbrooke Lions Hall, the presenters on the night included; Dr. Kevin Spencer who holds the titles of emergency medicine physician, mechanical engineer, assistant professor in medicine at Dalhousie and entrepreneur.
Spencer’s family has long enjoyed the area, having a seasonal residence in the region.
He acknowledged the partisan crowd which filled the hall and raised concerns about air quality, increased traffic, possible damage to water ways in the area including the St. Mary’s River, liability once the operation has moved on and other issues; many of which didn’t have answers.
“Most of the people here are actually against the mining activity; I’m happy to see there is that kind of resistance to something we’re very concerned about as a community, but I also wish that, perhaps, more people who are for the mine would have been here to hear some of this,” Spencer said, as he referred to the turnout as a “full house.”
“I think we dug into some really important issues, and asked some questions everybody should be asking; whether you are for the mine or against, everyone should be asking these questions.”
As for his time at the mic, Spencer said he “likes to ask questions that are very simple but important,” and caution people against assumptions.
“I think a lot of people just assume someone else will take care of this for them and that the operation will be safe and monitored properly; we all want to assume that, be optimistic,” he said.
“But, I think, history has proven these things can go sideways. Whether it’s international mines run by these companies proposing to operate here, or the previous history of mining in our province, history proves to us, time and time again, that problems come up. We can’t be naïve to that and have to look at this quickly and understand what is at stake.”
Peter Lund was another of the presenters during the evening. A retired hydrogeologist with more than 30 years’ experience in private consulting, as well as former HRM city councillor, he specializes in assessment and remediation of industrial and commercial contaminated sites, municipal groundwater supply development, surface water impact studies, landfill assessment and mine closures.
Lund was involved in dealing with acid mine drainage issues and subsequent fish kill at the Halifax airport, as well as work on the former Devco mine site clean-up.
He presented numerous questions he feels should be asked of the mining company and when asked if the same questions would be part of an environmental assessment done by the province, said, “they should be.”
“They’ll have technical experts looking at this information, but even when they looked at Beaver Dam [Gold Project mine], there were still holes left, some of which I brought up tonight … and I don’t know if they’re going to be addressed at Beaver Dam,” he said of the Halifax County project.
“That is one of the reasons I looked at Beaver Dam because I’m looking at certain, specific things, some of which I mentioned this evening. I want to relay that information back to the proponent and see if they can work with that, if they’re going to continue to proceed.”
Lund’s presentation focused on acid mine drainage, pH levels in the water, the impact of ‘crack halo’ created by blasting in the mine pit and the consequences of the storage of waste rock and low-grade ore on the surface.
Somewhat new to looking at this proposal, Lund said his concerns were elevated after visiting the proposed site earlier in the day and from some of what he heard from residents during the meeting.
“Some pretty scary stuff,” he said of concerns raised. “And I was at the site for the first time today; [taken with] how steep the hill is; where the tailings pond and waste rock pile is supposed to go … if something fails …” he said, his words trailing off, but the point made.
Other speakers on the evening included retired teacher Harry Kelly; an active outdoors man who lives near the Atlantic Gold active Moose River open-pit mine. He shared with the audience his negative experiences, and also that of his neighbours whom he interviewed.
The final speaker on the evening was St. F.X. biology professor Kris Hunter who is an expert on Atlantic salmon populations. He talked about the importance of the St. Mary’s River to the species and concerns he had for not only the fish population but groundwater and surface water resources in the St. Mary’s River watershed and ecosystem.
Both Spencer and Lund talked about being illuminated by Hunter’s presentation.
“I learned a lot about the importance of Atlantic salmon which I actually didn’t know about,” Spencer said. “And that really emphasizes the impact; it’s not just about us, it actually affects a lot more when you hear about what is happening with salmon as a species.”
“I hadn’t realized how sensitive the salmon are across the province; I hadn’t realized they are that much more sensitive than trout, my past experience had been with trout,” Lund said.
“I understand now, after hearing the presentation today, why they don’t exist in some rivers in the province, being really sensitive to both pH and aluminum. I’m really glad to hear that brought up; it reinforces why this river system, the St. Mary’s River, is really important to preserve.”