Environmentalists worry about bid to raise tailings dam wall height at NS emas gold mine | Pro IQRA News

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Environmentalists expressed dismay at the delayed provincial government decision that could allow the Nova Scotia gold mine to increase the wall height of an existing tailings pond.

Australia-based company St Barbara, which owns the Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, NS, said it would have to suspend open-pit operations if its application was not approved by the Provincial Environment Department in early August.

Karen McKendry, wilderness outreach coordinator for the Halifax-based Center for Ecological Action, said the company’s request to change its industrial license was separate from the normal environmental assessment process. No public consultation process is required if the company wants to raise the wall, he added.

“We’re raising the alarm about that,” McKendry said in a recent interview. “Raising a tailings dam puts it at a higher risk of rupture and this decision will be made behind closed doors and you really have to question it.”

Before they make a decision, provincial officials should at least request their own independent engineering studies and computer modeling of the consequences of a dam collapse, McKendry said.

Tim Halman is Nova Scotia’s minister of environment and climate change. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Environment Minister Tim Halman in May gave St Barbara’s Canadian subsidiary Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia Inc. a year to submit more information on the environmental impacts of a separate application to store Touquoy tailings in open pits once mining operations are complete.

In a June 22 news release, St Barbara said Halman’s decision came “too late in the process” as the mine was nearing the end of its life. The company said it had submitted an application to raise its existing tailings wall as a “temporary solution” that would extend operations until the end of fiscal year 2023.

If a lifting permit is not approved by early August 2022, “there will not be sufficient time to allow construction of a rise before the current tailings capacity is exhausted by mid-September 2022,” the company said. “This will lead to operations being suspended and placed under care and maintenance.”

Aerial shot of the Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, NS including the surrounding forest and dame over Scraggy Lake.
Aerial view of the Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, NS (Center for Ecological Action)

In an emailed statement Thursday, St Barbara said it “continues to engage” with the Department of the Environment and added that no deadline for a decision on its implementation had been set, “though a decision is anticipated in August 2022.”

“St Barbara remains committed to being a sustainable gold producer and employer in the province of Nova Scotia,” the company said. “Part of St Barbara’s corporate commitment is always to be safe, and respectful of the environment. Our company will continue to work with all parties to ensure we fulfill this commitment in the communities where we operate, now and in the future.”

The company has said it also wants to develop three other proposed gold mines located nearby which are currently in various stages of the regulatory process.

Province is still reviewing requests

Also in an email Thursday, the Environment Department said it was still reviewing the company’s request to raise the wall.

“All applications received by the department are thoroughly reviewed by department staff to ensure the proposed activities comply with applicable laws, regulations, policies and standards,” the department said.

It added that the proposed elevation increase had been designed by company engineers who were “professionally responsible for ensuring the dam design is sustainable and meets the requirements of the Canadian Dam Safety Guidelines.”

A dam breach and inundation study was submitted as part of the company’s application, the department added. “We have 60 days to make a decision from the date we receive the complete application, which is June 29.”

Patricia Egli, of the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, said her group wrote a letter last month to Halman and Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton urging that sufficient time be taken to make a decision that is “less affected”.

‘This is what we’re worried about’

“This is what we’re worried about,” he said. “It’s a behind-the-scenes process where you don’t know what’s going on.”

McKendry added that the situation boils down to trust, given the fact that Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia Inc. was fined $250,000 after pleading guilty in February to violating federal and provincial laws, after an investigation found they had deposited a damaging substance into the water near a gold mine.

“We think this time it’s important to be proactive,” McKendry said.

The size of several football fields, the Moose River mine opened in the fall of 2017 and is located about 90 minutes outside Halifax.