Geoff Baldwin and Denise Brushett, geologists with the Department of Natural Resources, look over a map of more than 30,000 hectares in the Cobequid Highlands that have been placed under a closure while the department does testing for gold deposits. Raissa Tetanish photo

Possible gold mining and exploration in Warwick Mountain is a cause for concern for residents in the area and beyond.

A group of a dozen local residents attended the Tatamagouche Source Water Protection Committee meeting early in December, as the issue was on the committee’s agenda. The committee’s meetings are open to the public, however the public is only there to observe, not ask questions during the meeting.

Margaretta Sander, who lives in Earltown, was one of those in attendance. She had also attended the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) recent open house on the subject.

“My view on what this province continues to do is look at its resources and then manage them in the worst possibly way so they become exhausted – fishing, mining, forestry,” she said. “And now this mining thing has the potential, maybe, to make some money but it has the potential to make a huger environmental impact.”

She said by going forward with the mining process could also destroy a very pristine area, while potentially destroying people’s water, which would then go into the ocean.

The Department of Natural Resources is working on putting together a Request for Proposals (RFP), to see if there is interest for gold exploration in the area. They currently have a closure on more than 30,000 hectares of land after finding volcanic rocks in the area, which commonly hold epithermal gold deposits. Because the area includes the Tatamagouche watershed, the department has been working with the water protection advisory committee and wants to include best management practices within the RFP.

Resident John Perkins is concerned there’s not enough time to get the best management practices together.

Perkins wrote a letter, with support from many residents, to the province with concerns on the timeframe, and requested the province holds off on the RFP for another year.

In the letter, addressed to Don James, the executive director of the DNR Geosciences and Mines Branch, Perkins wrote, “In particular it is important that all community members be given a chance to provide input on potential implications for environmental impact and local economic development, and that this input be integrated into the best practices.”

The meeting saw committee members discuss having staff with the Municipality of Colchester County pull together other best management practices documents from other provinces, so they could see what should be included in the BMPs locally.

Mark Schwartz said the meeting was a good first step, but more needs to be done.

“It felt like the people on the committee were trying to nail down specifics,” he said, adding he hopes it will go far enough.

“My concern as a citizen is, even in the get-go exploration, how it will impact my well and my quality of life if there’s a mining company on my border.”

One of the biggest concerns brought up during the committee meeting was whether or not the BMPs would pertain to the entire area of closure, when that closure is lifted and other possible companies come in if the RFP company leaves.

That’s also something Gregor Wilson, with Ski Wentworth, hopes will happen as well.

“(DNR) needs to do a lot more community engagement and they need to work with groups like the Tatamagouche Source Water Protection Committee to get some really good, solid best practices that will stay on this land forever and not just be a one-time thing,” he said.

One thing the committee wants included is to have the tailings pond nowhere near the watershed.

“Gold mining tailing ponds are some of the most nastiest, most toxic tailing ponds out there and to put that in our watersheds, and for so many people in the Tatamagouche area that have wells, that’s pretty terrifying. I’d be very nervous of having a gold mining tailing pond upstream of my well,” Wilson said.

Joan Baxter said what’s being said about the gold mining is similar to what was said about the pulp mill in neighbouring Pictou County decades ago.

“They were saying the same things – they’re going to protect everything, it’s going to be okay, there’s going to be jobs,” said Baxter, who just released a book detailing the history of the pulp mill. “Fifty years later, we’ve got the worst environmental disaster in Nova Scotia. We’re going to be paying for it and that’s exactly what’s going to happen here if we go ahead with this mining.”

Having lived in Africa, Baxter said she’s spent time in gold mines and said they’re destructive.

“No matter what they say, no matter how many regulations they put in place, they’re not going to protect us. This area was an eco-tourism paradise and that’s what we should develop, not destructive things like mining,” she said.

Living in Earltown, Pamela Swainson’s water comes from the hill above her property, where she and her husband have a farm.

“I think the water source is important – I’m tired of companies coming in and getting a free ride using water that’s really a public resource without paying for it. It should become part of the cost of their production,” she said. “Aquafers don’t know where the boundaries are. Much of the land is someone’s watershed. I know that’s the case for us.”

Being a ‘certified organic’ farm, Swainson they get a subsidy to conduct water tests for bacteria and, occasionally, other minerals. To do a full test for all minerals would cost Swainson $200, even with the subsidy.

“I don’t know what it would be for someone without a farm. I think that’s a cost that should not be borne by the public,” she said.

But even before any mining exploration begins in the area, Swainson would like to see the county introduce land use and noise bylaws, to help protect property owners in the future.

“If you don’t live in the village or within town limits, or one of the other villages, you are on your own,” she said.

Greg Watson, a member of the committee, is hosting a community meeting on Jan. 4, 6:30 p.m., at the Warwick Mountain Recreation Club, for local citizens, particularly those in the watershed area, to bring concerns and ideas forward to be submitted to the Tatamagouche Source Water Protection Committee.