----- Original Message -----
Dear Premier MacDonald,
It is with considerable dismay that we should have to be writing to you yet again at this time about the conduct of your Cabinet Ministers and their recipe for environmental disaster.
In an article in the December 8, 2007 Cape Breton Post headlined 'Province has stacked deck to protect strip mining - Whole process should go to independent review', concerned residents of Boularderie Island are calling for a public independent review of the Environment Department's approval to strip mine healthy coastal Crown woodlands and wetlands at the mouth of the Bras d'Or Lakes in Point Aconi for high sulphur coal that was never fit to burn before, and never mined before for obvious reasons.
The people of this area have been through this before with other strip mines and power plants, we know about high sulphur coal and coke ovens and mining and power companies and the departments of Environment and Natural Resources, we know what we're talking about from generations of first hand experience. We packed local community halls and the Big Fiddle at public meetings and rallies about the proposals to strip mine the region. Instead of holding angry demonstrations blocking the Trans Canada Highway, for three years Citizens Against Strip Mining have presented our cases to the municipal and provincial and federal and First Nations levels of government under the legal avenues available under the various legislation and received unanimous support except from you and your Cabinet.
During the adjournment debate in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly on December 13, 2007 on BOULARDERIE ISLAND/POINT ACONI: STRIP MINING - DECISION RECONSIDER, MLA Gordie Gosse asked you to tell the people of Nova Scotia why you are destroying beautiful Cape Breton Island.
In response, Environment Minister Mark Parent never once mentioned the coal, his sole justification for strip mining Point Aconi is that he just issued the industrial approval in September 2006, the environmental approval was already given on December 29, 2005.
In accordance with Nova Scotia's Environment Act, the environmental approval is issued under Part IV but may not be appealed. The industrial approval is issued under Part V where "the Minister may issue or refuse to issue an approval" which can be appealed. The Minister may dismiss the appeal, allow the appeal or make any decision or order the administrator could have made. Additionally, "Where the Minister believes on reasonable and probable grounds that there is a likelihood of an irreparable adverse effect, the Minister may make an order to shut down or stop an undertaking forthwith, either permanently or for a specified period of time". It's all at the discretion of the Minister of Environment.
Obviously, it is not the Opposition but Minister Parent who doesn't care about protecting our environment in Cape Breton. The Minister is ignoring the irreparable adverse effects of strip mining, ignoring the lessons from the past, ignored the "details" required for industrial approval, ignored the public's submissions and ignored their Appeal under the Environment Act and public opinion polls, ignored the Cumulative Effects Study, ignored the wetlands experts, ignored the area's elected representatives and candidates from all levels of government and political parties and First Nations, ignored federal government reports on Devco's Prince Mine and never once mentioned it's June 2006 sale to Pioneer Coal or $6.6 million estimate to clean it up, failed to verify any of the information provided by the proponent or consultant, and consistently twists the meaning of words to justify NSEL's failure to protect our environment.
After 10 months of clear cutting healthy Crown woodlands and wetlands and excavating down to the coal seams under the department's euphemism of "preparing for mining" and their unique definition of having access rights prior to "any activity" within the prescribed footprint, the District Manager wrote that "It is NSEL's analysis once Pioneer Coal is ready to mine coal or extract a `bulk sample', it is then that Pioneer Coal must be in compliance with the Terms and Conditions of the Approval", and even then it all depends on their definition of its meaning which is carefully worded to be clear as mud even to their own staff.
Minister Parent's meaningless conditions and "safest methods" have failed to protect our environment. As but one in a long list of obvious examples, last December 2006 concerned residents sent photographs to the Environment Department of the brook along the shore of the mine site. Despite the fact that the unnamed brook is marked on the federal online mapping system, the province's Inspector Specialist's response was that he "inspected the area of concern and obtained GPS coordinates. Before commenting, the Department must determine if this watercourse is within the proposed mining block". A plastic fence was erected and a monitoring well installed next to the 4 foot NSDNR Crown stake that NSEL also did not know about despite their twice weekly inspections.
In September 2007, runoff from the strip mine broke through the plastic fence and into the brook and into the ocean and fishing grounds. The evidence of acid mine drainage was obvious. Again concerned residents sent photographs to the Environment Department to no avail while the police threatened the public with charges of trespassing on Crown land. So they took their Member of Parliament along the shore to see the brook discharging acid mine drainage into the ocean and he called the federal DFO. The brook has since been cut off.
How did this discharge happen if "we've been onsite monitoring the water collection systems" as Minister Parent stated in the House of Assembly? What "water collection systems" is he talking about, where does the water go, where do the underground workings go, ought of sight out of mind? Why didn't NSEL know about the brook and the wetlands and the obvious acid mine drainage everywhere and leaking settling ponds and $6.6 million estimate to clean up the Devco property before issuing their approval to strip mine healthy provincial Crown land as well? What else is Minister Parent turning a blind eye to and squelching under FOIPOP?
Evidently, it is only after receiving "numerous complaints" from the public that Minister Parent has ever put any conditions on the groundwater, on reclamation, on noise, on site boundaries, on the wetlands, on the brooks, or enforced compliance with any of the Terms and Conditions of approval. The various Ministers' statements persistently contradict the obvious evidence to the public's eye.
Minister Parent said "We checked back and found that they weren't working outside their approve site boundaries", but in response to photographic evidence to the contrary his Inspector Specialist wrote on November 22, 2007 that "There are exemptions that if encountered would be reviewed on a case by case basis. These exemptions would be applicable to all Nova Scotia public and private land holdings", and the latest aerial photos and other data that was public before is now being squelched under FOIPOP while his anonymous Community Liaison Committee remains nowhere to be seen or heard.
To this day the Environment department will not even answer the simple question of what is the size of the area approved for strip mining on Boularderie Island? What is the meaning of the approved "Mining Blocks" outlined in yellow on all the maps and where else is Pioneer Coal permitted to "surface" mine? Why is Excavation #1 under the homes along Forrest Lane not proceeding according to the approved plan? How many jobs are being created by Devco's $119 million clean up at its other mine sites without strip mining the areas? What are you doing about the environmental liabilities identified in the federal assessments of Devco's former Prince Mine property? What are you doing about the findings of the Investigator's "follow up" report? What is the status of your Reclamation Study? What is the status of your proposed strip mining of the Boularderie Resource Block and moratorium on the other 13 sites? What are the results of the latest water study of the island? What is the water level in the underground workings, when will they reach capacity, why is the current data being squelched under FOIPOP? How does the use of high sulphur coal that was never fit to burn before meet your emission standards? Exactly who do residents call if their homes and water supplies are being damaged by the adverse effects of blasting and strip mining? All for what?
The list of questions is endless. The Ministers' rationale for proceeding to strip mine Point Aconi and disavowing any responsibility or accountability does nothing to protect our environment but is destroying healthy woodlands and wetlands under the false pretext of "cleaning up" old mine sites. If these are your "safest methods" then obviously the Environment Act is seriously flawed and the public have good reason for concern and demand for an independent and public review of your "no is not an option" "contract" with Pioneer Coal to strip mine the Point Aconi Resource Block at this first of 14 proposed strip mines under the province's 2001 Energy Strategy.
This public independent review should be completed before any more strip mines of any kind are permitted anywhere in the province, before any more mineral rights to mine are issued to mining companies before doing a proper environmental assessment and public consultation, and before any further destruction of Point Aconi is allowed or any more burning of high sulphur coal permitted without the necessary technology.
If the province's assessment and approval process is flawed then stop strip mining until you fix it, otherwise, this is a recipe for environmental disaster that there's no excuse for in this day and age. As MLA Leo Glavine said in the December 13, 2007 debate, "Mr. Minister, this is something we need to take a second look at. I'm hoping that process will come forward".
The meeting you arranged with local Environment staff in January is not such a step forward but more of the same old nonsense about "cleaning up" centuries old hand dug crop pits and underground workings whereby "mining will result in the site being remediated during the mining/reclamation operation".
Surely a Premier from Cape Breton ought to be doing more to protect our island from environmental destruction under false pretexts and a flawed assessment and approval process and second class standards, and order a public independent review and changes immediately. But what more can we expect when the area's MLAs send us expensive colour 2008 calendars showing the beauty of the island and expect taxpayers to keep them living in the BMW comfort they've grown accustomed to while completely ignoring their constituents' concerns about "surface" mining the mouth of the Bras d'Or Lakes? If it's not good for Digby Neck or Inverness then why is strip mining healthy woodlands and wetlands faster than Devco's $119 million "clean up" of its old mine sites good for Point Aconi to Port Morien?
Needless to say, something's got to give very soon before the province's ill-conceived strip mining policy and flawed approval process causes any more irreparable and costly destruction of our island. Anything less is an insult and disservice to Cape Breton with your "progressive rehabilitation" of Rodney's Park to show for it for generations to come.
If you're travelling this part of the Trans Canada we hope you'll take the 10 minute side trip to Point Aconi and inspect the results of your "clean up" of the area already. Call the operator at 578-9511 for a tour, or hitch a ride on the twice weekly inspection by the Environment department, or do as the public do and see for yourself what you're doing to protect the environment and promote sustainable development in Cape Breton.