Moose River gold mine's crushing environmental impact

Environmental problems with gold mines around the world raise concerns about a proposed mine near Halifax. Becky Thomas and Ben Sichel report.

As long as people continue to want gold rings, Mark Parent said in early 2008, there will be a place for mining.

The former provincial environment minister was referring to his department's controversial approval of the Moose River gold mine in the Musquodoboit Valley district of HRM. This month, however, Haligonians are getting a closer look at the dark side of gold, both at home and abroad.

Canadian mining corporations cause "serious harm... to the environment and people," and sully Canada's international reputation, says Carlos Amador, an activist from the Siria Valley, Honduras. Amador will be in Halifax April 28 to talk about the negative effects of gold mining in his community.

The culprit is Entre Mares, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vancouver-based mining giant Goldcorp.

Amador's list of grievances includes severe water contamination and shortages, health problems including outbreaks of skin disease, and the destruction of agriculture from environmental damage. Goldcorp faces similar accusations in Guatemala.

The company did not respond to requests for comment on Amador's claims.

As well, Amador notes that one of Goldcorp's top 10 investors is the Canada Pension Plan, meaning every working Canadian indirectly holds a stake in the company.

Barbara Markovits of Clam Harbour is well versed in the hazards of gold mining. Markovits is co-chair of the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, a group campaigning against the proposed Moose River gold mine project on the Eastern Shore.

The proposed mine, set to be developed by Australian firm Atlantic Gold, is near the site of the famous 1936 Moose River mine disaster, in which three men were trapped underground for 11 days.

The project received approval from the Department of Environment in February 2008, following an environmental assessment the ESFWA calls "inadequate" and lacking in "sufficient strength and sturdiness to actually protect the environment." The process only considered potential environmental impact on the mine site itself, says Markovits; "the impact on areas downstream and downwind were not considered."

Among other environmental impacts, Markovits is concerned the mine will affect the Ship Harbour Long Lake candidate wilderness area. Last week, the provincial government released the proposed boundaries for the area, for which she says "accommodations have been made to permit that mine to go ahead." Atlantic Gold did not respond to inquiries as to the current status of the project.

Markovits will share the floor with Carlos Amador at Tuesday's event. She feels their issues are clearly linked, especially where Canadian investment is involved. "What we in Nova Scotia want for our communities is clean air, clean water and community involvement," she says. "We are ethically bound to have those same conditions met in communities that may not have a voice."

Opponents of mines both in Moose River and in Honduras feel the economic benefits of the respective projects are overblown, and that long-term environmental harm far outweighs short-term job opportunities. As mining tapers off, jobs dry up and residents or governments are left to clean up.

In Nova Scotia, says Barbara Markovits, gold mining has a "toxic legacy," citing continuing environmental harm from defunct mines in Yarmouth County and the Eastern Shore. While the Department of Natural Resources argues the current proposed project is a job creator, Markovits counters that tourism and recreation would be better economic options for the area, especially once Ship Harbour Long Lake is officially declared a protected wilderness area.

In the Siria Valley of Honduras, Carlos Amador says the few jobs created by Goldcorp's mine are offset by the many farming livelihoods lost due to polluted water and degraded soil—-which contributes to migration to Canada and the U.S.

"It's true we need investment," he says. "But not this type of investment, which is destruction and death."

Investing in Conflict: a discussion on gold mining will be co-hosted by Rights Action and the Breaking the Silence Network, Tuesday, April 28th, 6pm at the Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre.

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