John Perkins, left, and Gregor Wilson made a presentation on behalf of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia to the French River Watershed Protection Advisory Committee about their concerns with possible gold exploration and mining in the watershed on the Cobequid Highlands. Just prior to the presentation, the watershed committee agreed it would look into designation of a protected water source for the watershed, and if they could include a prohibition on mining in the watershed. Raissa Tetanish photo

Local citizens working to stop possible gold exploration and mining in the Cobequid Highlands were happy to hear a recommendation was made to explore designating the French River Watershed a protected area.

John Perkins and Gregor Wilson presented to the watershed source committee on behalf of the members of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS) earlier this month. Just prior to the presentation, the committee agreed, under the recommendation of Mayor Christine Blair, to explore a protected designation for the watershed that could include a prohibition on mining.

“I highly recommend it,” said Wilson, about the protected designation. “That is certainly the strongest, first best step you could do.”

Wilson admits the province could potentially override that designation, however said it could cover those on the committee and council should there be a mine or tailings pond failure.

“This is a very good way to attempt to stop mining in the area. It may be overridden, and I know that.”

During their presentation, Perkins told the committee there are a number of municipalities in the province, such as Halifax, that are protecting their watersheds.

“They’re taking that position that, ‘we need to do something about this, and we can through this,’” said Perkins. “In all of these municipalities, mining is prohibited in protected water areas, but all kinds of recreational and other activities are not prohibited. There’s a lot of flexibility allowed in the kinds of activities that are regulated, or prohibited, or allowed.”

Since SuNNS was formed after citizens learned late last year mining and exploration could be a possibility, the members have been doing their own research, while presenting and meeting with officials – the watershed committee, council, ministers, and department officials.

Perkins said a Water Protection Plan had been drafted more than 10 years ago that didn’t prepare the committee or county for the possibility of mining.

“It identified that no mining was happening at that time, when that plan was written,” Perkins said, adding the plan could be updated and revised under the protected designation process through the Department of Environment.

“We would hope that this is something the committee would be interested in putting forward.”

Perkins admitted none of the members of SuNNS are experts or geologists, but they’ve been talking with many while doing research on the extent of the risk to the watershed over the lifecycle of mining.

Some information they presented came from a few sources, including mines in Alaska and British Columbia.

“For a mine that’s likely the size they’re talking about on Warwick Mountain, we’re looking at, over the lifespan of the mine, a drawdown of 140 billion litres of water from the watershed and the ground water. To put that into perspective, Tatamagouche uses 70 million litres in a year,” Perkins explained. “This represents 1,600 years of all the water use in Tatamagouche. Within a period of eight to 20 years – the lifespan of the mine – they’ll withdraw 1,600 times the total amount of water we use now. In mines around the world, that results in watersheds and rivers drying up, the diversion of watersheds and other effects of that.”

Open pit mining, said Perkins, uses a combination of ammonium, nitrate, and fuel, which end up in the fissures and cracks in water and into the watershed.
“Along with those compounds comes the arsenic and mercury, and other toxic materials and minerals,” he said.

Mines of the nature proposed for the area can generate around 30,000 tonnes of dust and 1.5 billion tonnes of waste rock.

“The dust, even if the processing is done somewhere else, the dust from the extraction settles into the forest, streams, and rivers, and basically into the watershed,” said Perkins. “In our situation here, the preliminary geological information and surveys are showing elevated presence of arsenic and mercury already.”

Perkins said it’s not clear where the elevated level of arsenic and mercury is coming from, however “it’s the kind of thing that comes from exploration and mining.”

Perkins also explained three types of minerals – pyrite, pyrrhotite, and arsenopyrite – that are iron and sulfur compounds. When broken down, the minerals form sulfuric acid and produce acid rock drainage.

“When it comes from mining activities, it’s acid mine drainage. If you can imagine managing millions of tonnes of waste rock that in our climate, where precipitation is greater than evaporation, we have the potential for a very, very serious management issue of acid rock drainage,” he said.

In the community, members of SuNNS have been hearing comments that mining is inevitable because the province is pushing it.

“We have this attitude that it’s fait accompli,” Perkins said. “We also tend to be reassured by the Department of Natural Resources, whose job it is to push mining, that there is no environmental issue that won’t be handled by best management practices or regulations.”

Two photos in the presentation caught some members of the watershed source committee by surprise as they learned they were taken only a few days before where gold exploration is happening near Gamble Lake in Bass River.

According to a post on The Newswire online, dated May 29, 2018, Chilean Metals Inc. has started drilling on a Bass River project at the Castlereagh prospect.

Under Chilean Metals Inc.’s Nova Scotia portfolio on their website, the company is focusing on advanced exploration and development of iron-oxide-copper-gold deposits in the central part of the province. Bass River isn’t the only place the company is exploring. The company’s website says the project area has approximately 3,000 claims in four project areas – Fox River, Parrsboro, Lynn, and Bass River North.

Hearing gold exploration is happening in the Bass River area came as of concern to both Mayor Blair and Deputy Mayor Bill Masters.

Blair said the county is looking at the entire Fundy Shore for a geopark, with the hopes of having a UNESCO designation in the future.

Wilson told the committee that, since gold mining began in the province, there’s three million tonnes of abandoned arsenic and mercury contaminated gold mining waste that hasn’t been remediated yet.

“We feel our economy, our livelihoods, our quality of life, life, health and water are at risk,” said Perkins. “You’ve got one lever to pull and that’s follow the designation process. Even if we have doubts about its long-term viability, it’s the only process that you have open to you.”

The Department of Natural Resources is hoping to issue the Request for Proposals this month regarding the exploration in the Cobequid Highlands area, and Perkins said SuNNS will be there through the whole process.

“It’s our intention to go to the wall on this,” he said. “We will do our best to ensure our watershed is protected and these types of issues are raised.”

Wilson said the designation of a protected water source will require some work, but he acknowledges that.

“I support you for taking us down this road. In the end if the crown disagrees and overrides you – at least you folks can say we tried,” he said.