Environmental Impact Assessment and Mining in Nova Scotia: A Public Legal Education Session
Saturday, November 30
Room 150, Collaborative Health Education Building (Dalhousie)
5739 University Avenue
To say that gold mining in Nova Scotia is controversial is to assume everyone knows the facts. On Saturday, November 30 the East Coast Environmental Law Association is hosting a sold out public information session to put all the confusion into plain English. Its aim is to educate people in the dark about the industry's activities, which are shrouded in privacy and confusing legal processes.
Many people would object to kicking someone out of their home or blasting a gorge in the ground so a big company can mulch the bedrock and parse out mites of gold. Supportive lobbyists say it's worth it.
At Saturday's information session, a group of lawyers who specialize in environmental law will be talking about the provincial environmental impact assessment—one of the biggest hurdles to overcome before a mine is dug. The mining company has to consult with locals, Indigenous groups, government departments, consultants and the public to predict the environmental footprint of its project. The result is a thick document full of technical jargon.
There's now a new federal process, the Impact Assessment Act, and Lisa Mitchell, a lawyer who will be presenting Saturday says that what's challenging is these gold mining projects that are currently being assessed—the ones that people are most keenly interested in today—were started under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. One open-pit mine has operated for almost two years just outside Halifax. Four more proposed sites are on the table at Cochrane Hill, Fifteen Mile Stream, Beaver Dam and Goldboro.
Today's environmental assessments don't have to follow the brand-new rules because the proposals started years ago. This means that both the companies and their opposition are playing catch up in the grey area that exists around the rules since this change. The meeting will be paying special attention to the parts that are specifically about public engagement says Mitchell. The environmental assessment phase is the time public feedback has the most consequence.
One member of the public who chose to engage in this process will soon be in court, suing a gold company and the RCMP. John Perkins, the man physically thrown from a meeting in Sherbrooke last summer, is testing the legality of such actions. "I'm pursuing the case because I don't want people to think corporations are legally permitted to make false accusations against members of the public in order to have them arrested and removed from a public meeting," says Perkins.
Plus, Perkins says that the fact that a group of environment lawyers, as opposed to a government or industry group, is holding this public information meeting "speaks to how the corporate and industrial interests are intertwined with the government's interest, to the exclusion of citizens."
The public session Saturday will focus on the environmental impact assessment of the mines—each of which, if dug, will look like a parched artificial lake. Real lakes nearby will have the water sucked out to wash specks of gold from tonnes of earth. Then the water will be spouted into a fake lake full of chemical silt and filth.
These tailings ponds then need maintenance forever. The environmental assessment is meant to explain how all this can be done without damaging nature.
Having a pond of poison nearby that could toxify the entire county if it leaks or spills is something a few local residents find unappealing.
Others trust that safety standards have never been higher and it's more important that the projects promise dozens of well-paying jobs. a