Members of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS) participated in the Tatamagouche Fire Department's annual Labour Day parade. Raissa Tetanish photo

It was a happy occasion for the crowd gathered in the chambers during the Colchester County council meeting at the end of August as a motion was passed to start the process to seek a protected area designation of the French River Watershed.

The Tatamagouche Source Water Protection Committee requested council’s support in the designation of the watershed under the Environment Act. Those on the committee passed a motion earlier in the month to make the recommendation to council. Residents in the area, as well as beyond, are opposed to a possible exploration in the watershed area. The Department of Energy and Mines is working on a Request for Proposals for gold exploration in the area.

“The worst thing that can happen is to take a perfectly good watershed that’s serving a community, and take away any chance at all to protect it,” said Deputy Mayor Bill Masters, who also sits on the water protection committee. “I think the one thing we all agree on is we have a watershed we need to protect. By doing this, at least we as a council have taken every step we can.”

The province had been working in the Cobequid Highlands over the years and found traces of gold deposits. A Request for Proposals regarding exploration is still being reviewed internally by the Department of Energy and Mines before it will be released to the public for review.

Along with a motion to seek a protected designation for the watershed, council also passed a motion to send correspondence to the local MLA, and the ministers of both the departments of Environment and Energy and Mines to delay issuing the Request for Proposals until the designation process is complete.

“This, to me, is a no brainer,” said Masters.

While discussing what types of activities could be regulated within such a designation, Crawford Macpherson, director of Community Development, told councillors a successful designation would make it a provincial statute.

The designation, he said, would regulate the activities in the area, which is different than a land-use bylaw. Land-use bylaws, he said, regulate the types of developments.

Counc. Geoff Stewart said he’s in support of protecting water supply.

“This is something that’s not unique to the municipality,” he said, adding it’s been a topic of conversation with the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, of which he is currently the president.

But while the county is seeking the protected status, it will be up to the province as to whether or not it is approved, or overwritten if the time comes.

“All I think the community is asking is that we do everything we can possibly do to prevent the watershed from being compromised,” said Masters. “If the minister then decides to override us, that’s on them.”

“We would be remiss if we didn’t try,” added Tom Taggart.

Following the meeting, Gregor Wilson, a members of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS), said council showed great leadership at the meeting. SuNNS has been opposing the gold exploration and mining, and presented to the water protection committee about protecting the watershed.

“The French River is the only source water for the community of Tatamagouche, and as such, all citizens and area businesses depend on this pristine, reliable source of water.”

John Perkins, another outspoken member of the group, said there’s widespread opposition to the proposed mine. At the time of the council meeting, SuNNS had collected a petition with roughly 500 signatures of residents, cottagers, and tourists in opposition to the mine.

“The process of having a watershed designated “protected” has been conducted in other Nova Scotia counties so there is an established process that includes public consultation meetings,” said Perkins.

“The use of provincial government “protection” templates and examples to help with the creation of the protected status document will help that agreement protect the water while not imposing undue hardship on area citizens,” added Wilson.