Goldboro gold mine proposal submitted to province for environmental approval

A newly renamed company pitching a freshly revamped proposal for an open-pit gold mine on the Eastern Shore has submitted its environmental assessment of the project to the province.

Signal Gold, previously known as Anaconda Mining, wants to develop a mine in Goldboro, NS, about 250 kilometers east of Halifax.

The project would include two open pits, a processing facility, a tailings management facility, waste rock storage areas, as well as water management infrastructure such as collection ditches, culverts, settling ponds and water treatment systems.

The company also plans to bring in trailers to house employees, with 350 beds expected during the construction phase and 175 beds during the operations phase. The facility will be drug- and alcohol-free, the company says.

Signal Gold says the project will create 735 new direct and spinoff jobs a year in the province for 15 years. The company expects the project to generate $528 million in income and mining taxes at the federal, provincial and municipal level from direct and spinoff economic activity.

If approved, Signal anticipates construction will begin in late 2023, with the mine being commissioned in 2025 and operations continuing until 2035. The closure process would begin in 2036.

Proposal was withdrawn in 2019

Anaconda had sought environmental approval for a gold mine development at the site in August 2018.

But the environment minister at the time said the company’s submission did not contain enough information, and asked Anaconda for a more extensive report on the environmental implications of the project. The minister gave the company a one-year deadline.

In September 2019, three days before that deadline, Anaconda withdrew its proposal from the environmental assessment process because it was making significant changes to its plans.

The original proposal called for a mix of open-pit and underground mining, with ore to be processed on site. The gold concentrate would then have been trucked to the company’s Point Rousse processing facility near Baie Verte, NL, via the North Sydney ferry.

The new plan calls for two open pits — one measuring about 1,025 meters by 520 meters, and the other about 775 meters by 410 meters — and for the gold to be processed at the site.

No significant adverse effects, says company

As part of its environmental assessment, the company evaluated the expected impacts of the project on air, light, noise, soil, water, fish, terrestrial species and habitat, socioeconomic conditions and Indigenous people.

It concluded that once mitigation measures are implemented, the project would not have significant residual effects.

However, it did note that the project overlaps with areas that were mined over 100 years ago, and which are known to be contaminated by those historical mining operations.

Early gold production often involved the use of mercury, arsenic and cyanide, and tailings — the materials left over after gold was extracted — were usually dumped on the ground or in waterways.

The surface plant of the Boston Richardson Mining Company in nearby Upper Seal Harbor in 1911. (Nova Scotia Archives)

Gold production at the location of the proposed mine dates back to at least 1893, and tailings that were deposited in streams and wetlands migrated along Gold Brook. Research in the area has found elevated levels of arsenic and iron in the water downstream of the tailings, and sampling by the Geological Survey of Canada in 2012 showed elevated arsenic and mercury levels in the tailings in the Upper Seal Harbor area.

Seal Harbor and nearby Isaacs Harbor have been closed to most bivalve shellfish fisheries since 2005 due to high levels of arsenic found in clam tissue.

Signal Gold’s environmental assessment says historical tailings in the project area will be removed and taken to the company’s tailings management facility for storage and monitoring.

Nova Scotia Lands, the provincial Crown agency responsible for cleaning up contaminated lands, is currently working on plans to remediate sites that have been contaminated by historical gold mines, including in the Upper and Lower Seal Harbor areas where the proposed Goldboro mine would be located.

Opposition to gold mine proposals

Nova Scotia has one operating gold mine, Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy mine in Moose River, NS That company has three other proposed mines in the works, including Beaver Dam, Cochrane Hill and Fifteen Mile Stream. Each of those projects has faced opposition from some residents and environmental groups concerned about the short- and long-term impacts of the proposals.

Signal Gold’s environmental assessment documents note the company has held open houses and met with Indigenous groups to share plans for the site and hear concerns.

According to the company, the issues raised during those sessions include:

  • Impacts on traditional Mi’kmaw practices including hunting, harvesting and fishing.
  • Contingency planning for accidents and malfunctions.
  • Management of historical tailings.
  • Environmental protections related to the tailings management facility and water.
  • Employment opportunities and economic benefits.
  • Road safety and traffic.
  • Access to the east side of the project, ATV trails and Ocean Lake.
  • Noise and potential impact to drinking groundwater wells.

Feedback invited for 30 days

Public comments on the proposed project will be accepted until July 10 online, by email, phone or letter.

The environment minister has until July 30 to make a decision whether to approve the environmental assessment.

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