Letters to the Editor
On January 14, 2006 the Cape Breton Post published a column by Rannie Gillis titled "We Were Dumbfounded to Hear an Official Tell Us that No Was Not an Option". A few weeks later the newspaper published a half page rebuttal by then Minister of Natural Resources Richard Hurlburt which prompted a flood of Letters to the Editor for several weeks. Letters to the Editor continue to this day but unforunately we do not have the time or space to post them all.
The following letter is from Premier Rodney MacDonald to Cape Breton Post columnist Mr. LeRoy Peach and posted with his permission:
May 11, 2006
Dear Mr. Peach:
I am responding to your e-mail of April 18, 2006 regarding coal mining in Cape Breton. Your concerns about surface mining in this area are clearly heartfelt. My government has listened to these concerns and we are trying very hard to take them into consideration in our decision making on this issue. My Ministers and I have taken the opportunity to visit the Prince Mine site at Point Aconi and to view its current condition. It is abundantly clear that the land on this property is in a derelict state, from years of underground mining and bootlegging. There can be no question that a significant effort is required to return this property to a safe and productive state, and it remains my conviction that the best means to effect this is to allow the remaining coal to be recovered, and to allow this recovery to pay for the remediation. I believe that the end result will be a benefit for the land and for the community.
I understand your concern about groundwater in the area. This concern is one of the specific items that is addressed in the environmental assessment for this project and will also be addressed as part of the industrial approval. There is an abundance of experience and knowledge on the effects of surface mines on groundwater, both in Nova Scotia and elsewhere. I am confident that this activity can be carried out without regional impact on groundwater quantity or quality.
Rodney J. MacDonald, Premier Province of Nova Scotia
copy: Honourable Brooke Taylor, Minister of Natural
April 5, 2006
Was it opportunism, expediency, window dressing or is the provincial government honestly listening to the lobby against strip mining? Given the track record of the province there is every reason to believe that Premier Rodney MacDonald may be trying to buy time for his minority government.
Up until a few weeks ago there were persistent rumours that Nova Scotians could be headed for an election and it's no secret that some Cape Breton Liberal candidates both in the Sydney and around the North Sydney area have been out campaigning.
The province's sudden move to impose a moratorium on school closures last week caught many people by surprise and also added to the election speculation.
When you consider the mounting opposition, protests, motorcades, letters to the editor and news stories that a dedicated group of adversaries collectively known as Citizens Against Strip Mining generated for months, the sudden swing of the political pendulum is hard to grasp.
Given the fact that one area was represented by former provincial cabinet minister .Cecil Clarke then residents have good reason to remain suspicious and vigilant.
Clarke's record on the issue is clearly imbedded in the minds of the voters and many political observers believe the seat is up for grabs.
Opponents of strip mining have every right to be suspicious of the MacDonald government's plan to scale back a project at Point Aconi while it placed 13 other potential strip mining projects on hold for three years.
Make no mistake about it, the sudden policy change shouldn't be taken to mean any real departure from previous government policy.
Anyone who doubts that should read the government's own press release that was issued Monday, April 3.
Minister of Natural Resources, Brooke Taylor noted that the government still supported the "economic benefits of coal mining".
The minister went on to say that they wanted to see the results of best management practices and new guidelines governing the Point Aconi project.
Why representatives of Citizens Against Strip Mining weren't allowed access to Taylor and Labour Minister Carolyn Bolivar-Getson when the ministers unveiled their plans during a press conference at a Sydney hotel is impossible to comprehend.
Surely meeting with the people who have been campaigning against strip mining would have been a show of good, faith on behalf of the Tory ministers and would .have went a long way to opening the lines of communication and building a new relationship. .
The sudden change of heart by the provincial government should be reason enough to set off alarm bells among a skeptical group of property owners who have consistently warned of the envronmental damage from strip mining since day one.
If anything the provincial government has a lot of explaning to do.
April 5, 2006
Having witnessed today, in the cold because we citizens were asked to stand in the cold outside the venue picked by the government to make their announcement regarding strip mining; I want to warn the citizens that the so called concession by the MacDonald government is not a concession at all.
In fact, for the government and for the proponent Pioneer Coal, nothing has been changed.
The proponent will very shortly be allowed to proceed with the plans the citizens have been objecting to. All the government is saying is that they will not called for more tenders for a while.
The two new ministers involved in this project apparently made a whirlwind tour of the sites Monday morning and then decided, in a few minutes, that, yes, the project could go ahead.
It is important for the good people of Cape Breton to be aware that this new announcement has not changed anything at all in the provincial plans regarding coal strip mining in Cape Breton.
The project is going ahead, as planned, there is no change in what has been planned for the last two years, behind closed doors.
Don't be fooled by the announcement. And I don't trust the government to be vigilant and demand that the operators do what is necessary to protect the environment because, in this very project, the legal procedures have not been followed to date so we have no reason to believe that they will be in the future.
March 27, 2006
On Jan. 27, 1987, Pioneer Coal was granted an Approval of Industrial Waste Treatment Works for a Surface Coal Mine and Wash Plant at Reserve Mines. The extensive document was divided into sections, two of which involved General Stipulations and Reclamation and Abandonment. In total there were 31 clauses. Because of Freedom of Information and the absence of a local committee, it is difficult to determine now what regulations Pioneer complied with and what regulations it didn’t.
The worst aspect of the mining was the interminable blasting and not only the noise of it. On April 7, 1987, the Post reported that “several residents have complained of damage to their houses, which they say is caused by blasting at the strip mine.” The damage consisted of cracked walls, foundations and chimneys. Councillor Frison claimed that the blasting was within the proper decibel range, of less than 65 decibels during the day, and that air monitors set up in houses showed an acceptable range.
He claimed that the engines of a jet landing at the airport just before a blast registered higher readings. I have been told by those who worked as miners, however, that blasting has greater impact underground and that the seismic vibrations from such blasting can cause damage to dwellings.
Court cases have established this to be true, presumably even if the measured blast is within the acceptable range. On the other hand, some experts will tell you that damage from blasting may be due to inferior building material.
Here is the personal testimony of a gentleman I met recently, a former miner. He was entering the strip mine and I asked him about the blasting in the 1980s. He said that one day a charge split his chimney. On another day, a blast caused his fireplace to fall out on the floor. He definitely believes that ground vibrations from blasting were a factor. His parting comment on strip mining was this: “They rape the land and then they leave.”
On Dec. 9, 1987, the Reserve Fire Department sought, through the County, an injunction against Pioneer because two exterior walls, the footer and the floor of the new firehall, were damaged through blasting. A gentleman from Groves Point, a Mr. Wendell Coldwell, who had taken Novaco to court in Point Aconi in 1984 on behalf of citizens who claimed they lost their water through blasting, agreed to pursue a lawsuit against Pioneer.
Support was sought from homeowners. However, a local resident told me that homeowners would not come forward because they feared property devaluation. In the case of the fire department, the Underwriters‚ Adjustment Bureau stated that “no consideration would be given to the claim.” The burden of proof rested with the community, not with Pioneer. Before legal action could be taken, Mr. Coldwell passed on and the suit was discontinued.
Earlier, at Point Aconi on Feb. 18, 1983, the Post reported that residents of Millville, who had to put up with Pioneer’s blasting, sought redress from Novaco, the Crown corporation which engaged Pioneer to do the mining, for the loss of water and diminished water quality. Twenty-five homes were affected since the onset of blasting. The Post reported that since 1980 six homeowners had to deepen wells. The Department of the Environment attributed “the problem to failure of the water system and over-development,” not to blasting.
Mr. Wendell Coldwell headed the legal action. An arbitrator ruled that in all probability the mining lowered the water table and diminished the quality of water. However, since little monitoring had gone on before the mining as well as the random nature of dewatering, he could only rule in favour of two cases in that particular arbitration. But the arbitrator rejected the notion of the Department of the Environment that the alteration in the water table occurred as a result of a natural phenomenon.
In the 1980s Mr. Coldwell successfully pursued 20 of 22 claims on behalf of residents of Millville and Alder Point against Novaco Corporation.
In Reserve Mines, Pioneer was required by the Department of Environment to level spoiled piles, infill cuts, grade, contour and revegetate. Cuts were not always filled, (for example the so-called “lake”) contouring not always completed and the land was not always graded to stipulations. My readers may go to the former mine and see for themselves. In other words, the Department of Environment did not enforce that particular regulation to the extent that it should have.
What recourse do the good people of Boularderie Island have if strip mining occurs again in their neighbourhood? The burden of proving damage to the landscape, their homes and the acquifer will be placed upon them. A resident of St. Rose, Inverness County, said at a public meeting in Port Morien in 2004, “Once a company gets in, it’s too late.”
March 24, 2006
PRINCE TOSSED INTO THE MIX
THE ISSUE: STRIP MINING OPPONENTS WELL DUG IN
So deep do suspicions run now among opponents of strip mining that even news about the possibility of underground coal mining spawns conspiracy theories. "Is it just to take us off the case and let us relax our guard a little?" wondered Earl Cantwell of Citizens Against Strip Mining. He was reacting to comments from Cape Breton North MLA Cecil Clarke that Australia-base Xstrata Coal is going to look at the possibility of reopening Prince mine at Point Aconi.
There's no chance that the lobby against strip mining is going to get distracted at this point by anything less than a very large asteroid. A motorcade and rally are planned for Sydney this Sunday, one of a continuing series of public events aimed at building pressure against strip mining as the issue comes to the crunch in the Point Aconi area.
That's where Pioneer Coal is close to acquiring the necessary permits to start surface coal extraction and site remediation near the abandoned Prince mine. Opponents see this-as a key battle, not only because it is the proposal closest to proceeding but because it could be the first in a chain of strip mine projects potentially extending from Boularderie Island to the Port Morien area. Or, if opponents succeed, it could be the Waterloo for strip mining in Cape Breton - the project whose failure signals the political impossibility of mining coal anywhere on the island unless through tunnels.
At this point it seems unlikely that Pioneer will snag on any on the remaining provincial regulatory hurdles, a process which opponents of strip mining regard as flawed and biased. That leaves two other possibilities: political and legal.
There is some hope that the new premier, a risk-averse Cape Bretoner who's witnessed some strip mine remediation problems in his own riding, may take a fresh look at the future of surface extraction on the island. Failing that, Mayor John Morgan is pushing regional planning staff to come up with "creative" ways that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality might attempt a regulatory intervention to trip up strip mine plans. So far the advice is that this is provincial jurisdiction, but the municipal angle hasn't been exhausted. From another vantage, Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club environmental lobby promised to look into the possibility of invoking Canadian environmental legislation where strip mining has potential impacts on matters of federal jurisdiction, such as adjacent ocean waters.
In the meantime, talk of reviving undersea mining provokes contradictory reactions among strip mine opponents. On the one hand, the proposed development of Donkin mine seems to hold out the promise of easing pressure for further strip mining, at least in the Donkin area; on the other, as we see on the Northside, talk of mining Prince again is regarded as a possible ruse.
Both views are easily overstated. Strip mining will proceed, or not, more or less independently of what's happening with Donkin and Prince. The delivery of a large supply of undersea coal could have an impact on the local market but that is some years down the road. And the outcome of undersea mining ventures has no bearing on the need to reclaim the sites of abandoned workings, which is a big part of the province's rationale for promoting strip mining (though opponents don't buy this for a second).
The Northside crew may be right, though, that there's some of the art of the stage magician in Clarke's musings on the subject of reopening Prince. For a politician noted for playing things close to his vest, Clarke seems to step out of character when talking about Xstrata "looking at the feasibility and doing an assessment" of going back into Prince, the last of Devco coal mines to close. It's not that he could be thinking of eclipsing the strip mining issue with a bit of timely speculation - there's zero hope of that now - but evoking memories of a type of coal mining that does not stir instant, implacable public hostility at the mere mention may afford some small respite from an intense political issue.
March 20, 2006
News that Pioneer Coal, owned by John Chisholm of Antigonish, might be coming to Point Aconi to mine coal and disrupt the lives of homeowners a second time in 25 years has increased the opposition to strip mining on this island. If Mr. Chisholm gets the necessary approvals, it is very possible that our island could be ringed with as many as 10 to 14 ghastly mines, all of them promoted by the Department of Natural Resources and permitted by the Department of Environment and Labour.
Last week I recounted the history of the strip mine at Sydney Airport, a mine operated by Pioneer Coal between 1987 and 1992. Joel Matheson, minister of mines, gave the citizens of Reserve Mines the privilege of voting on the issue. He went further: He said that he would honour the result. On Aug. 27, 1986, 225 people from Reserve Mines and area voted to accept the mine and six people to oppose it. No such privilege has been extended to the people of Boularderie Island, all of whom have been under siege for two years by government talk of a strip mine. The province’s chief cheerleader is MLA Cecil Clarke, now Speaker of the House of Assembly.
At the meeting in Reserve Mines in 1987, Councillor Julien Frison said that there were “many people watching the project to make sure it is done correctly from an environmental point of view.” I hope to show that the project was not watched carefully enough.
The person who raised the greatest alarm at the Reserve Mines meeting was Charles Musial, of Gardiner Mines, now 87 and still passionate in his opposition to strip mining. He was an old warrior against the practice, having succeeded with others in quashing the planned mine in Gardiner East in 1983.
He stated that the land that Pioneer planned to disturb at the airport would not be improved and he was right. He said that “it took 10,000 years evolution to establish the top-soil (since the ice age).” “I question,” he said, “that a five- to 10-year project can be wound up to better that.” On the other hand, a Department of Mines report stated that “the land in its current state is swampy and essentially useless.”
Apparently, the term “wetlands” did not exist in the Mines Department lexicon at that time. Current topography maps, however, refer to the strip-mined area at Reserve (accurately in my view) as a “wasteland.” It contains a toxic mix of soil, and the only vegetation is the odd stunted hardwood tree as well as hydroseeded land which, in the summer, produces a minimum of green cover.
Mr. Frison said recently that the “reclaimed” area was so productive that it would have made a great golf course. That, of course, would depend on bringing in tons of topsoil, “as high as Kelly’s Mountain”, to borrow Mr. Musial’s phrase.
Mr. Musial also pointed out that the streams at the airport would be affected and he was proved correct again. Renwick Brook begins in the area and used to run through the so-called “swamp”, a green undisturbed area. In order for Pioneer to mine there, the brook had to be altered. Another brook was created alongside the strip mine. Pioneer left a substantial mining cut there, some 40 feet deep, that some people are calling a “lake.” By agreement, they were supposed to fill it in but did not do so.
When the mine was in operation, the extensive waterway next to this “lake” ran red with copper and evidence of it can be seen in the waterways today.
On the other hand, Tom MacLachlan, a resident who has known the area well all his life, claims that the ecology of the area has recovered and that the man-made “lake” (the mining hole) and the brook support wildlife, including trout and beaver. He showed me pictures of the area when it was green. I have been to the strip mine many times and no amount of pictures will convince me that the area is not a wasteland.
In 2004, 12 years after the company left Reserve, Pioneer came in and leveled earth at the mine and then hydroseeded it. As I said, it produces greenery in summer, but nothing really substantial grows there.
Contrary to what some folks believe, even if it had been contoured properly, the idea that a subdivision could be built there or a golf course constructed is ridiculous. The wetlands were deemed useless before; they have been wiped out in that area now.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said in 1987 that the objective would be “to bring the area back to as proper an environment as possible.” In my next column, I hope to show the extent to which this did not happen.
March 15, 2006
It took several months of unrelenting public pressure to get provincial government ministers to hold a public meeting on their strip mining policy last July. More than 300 residents attended and were told that “No is not an option. No is not a realistic approach”.
On Feb. 11, writing as the minister of natural resources, Richard Hurlburt had the nerve to claim (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too) that even columnist Rannie Gillis “is simply inaccurate” in his reports of the issue.
Coal mining has left many problems, including open pits, subsidence of underground tunnels and toxic acid drainage. But in his attempt to convince readers that “solving these issues would cost the Nova Scotia taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars”, Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention that the federal government allocated $155 million to clean up Devco sites. And he fails to mention the recent statement by Cecil Clarke, then minister of energy, that if the federal money was on the table the debate would be different.
Instead, Mr. Hurlburt’s solution is “to implement the province’s mineral policy” to “create wealth” by encouraging “business to extract minerals” that can be used to “enhance the quality of life” for one's “friends, families, and neighbours” by strip mining Cape Breton as soon as possible. Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention that practically all the “wealth” goes to the owner of the coal company and his family and political friends, the rest of the people of Nova Scotia only get $1 per tonne royalty to share among themselves and pay the cost for any adverse effects.
Mr. Hurlburt’s claim that those who are opposed to strip mining Cape Breton are “attempting to deny” their communities an “economic and employment generator” is preposterous. The opponents of strip mining are trying to protect economic development and hundreds of jobs that farming, fishing and tourism generate.
In assuring readers that regulations governing strip mining are “stringent” and strip mines are “bonded for reclamation”, Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention that it has been necessary to get a court order to clean up Little Pond and that the company has instead applied to strip mine even more coal to provide “revenue for the company during completion of reclamation operations".
Mr. Hurlburt's article is accompanied by a photograph that appears to have been taken from miles offshore to convince readers that Alder Point “is fully restored with mature trees growing where the mine was excavated and then backfilled.” The overhead colour photograph of the site in DNR’s 2003 report, Coal related sites in industrial Cape Breton, clearly shows quite the contrary. It was because of the costs and problems of remediation at Alder Point that Devco stopped strip mining over 30 years ago.
Before believing the claim that “Halfway Road in Sydney Mines is a significant success for reclamation mining” go and see it, or any site in the area, and look at what else Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention. Then judge for yourself.
Ignoring the adverse effects of past mining is not the solution either. But Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention the recent remediation of the coal mine in Inverness and the $4 million the provincial government managed to find to fund that six-month project without having to strip mine the community.
If the province needs coal, most of it is under the sea at Donkin and Inverness, provided high sulphur coal is fit to burn or sell under the Kyoto Accord.
Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention the debates and unanimous votes in opposition to his strip mining proposals from both Victoria County councillors and Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s Mayor and councillors, as well as from the members of the Opposition.
The day before Mr. Hurlburt’s article appeared, CBRM Mayor John Morgan notified provincial and federal environment ministers that “there is virtually no public support in this region for the proposed strip mines”. Mr. Hurlburt wants the public to believe that it’s just a few radicals daring to question his government’s policy.
It is almost a year since more than 300 residents jammed their community hall to discuss the province’s strip mining proposals. Since then many have attended the government’s information sessions, studied the documentation, participated in the government’s cumulative effects study, held public meetings and information workshops, met with all local political representatives as well as experts in the field, they have read Mr. Hurlburt’s claims - and still, outside of the provincial government’s world, there is hardly a sign of a single soul who supports strip mining Cape Breton.
Why? Because common sense shows that there are no positives to strip mining, especially in the coastal communities of Cape Breton that rely on fishing, farming and tourism and where many peole are retired.
We encourage all to come and see before making up there minds about the government’s strip mining policy for “Cape Breton and any other region of Nova Scotia where there are mineral deposits”.
Citizens Against Strip Mining
March 14, 2006
John Chisholm of Pioneer Coal is quoted about the cleanup of previously mined areas in Cape Breton (Taking It to the Street, March 10): "Who is going to clean this thing up?" The implied answer is that his company will do it.
He sounds like a wolf in sheep's clothing. His company is already responsible for creating huge areas of mining-damaged land on Cape Breton. His abandoned sites are barrens, strewn with rock and stained by acidic drainage. If Chisholm is so intent on doing us a favour, he can start by cleaning up his own mess - and "no" should not be an option.
We are frequently told that strip mining would restore lands impacted by bootleg mining. Bootleg mines were small operations done by hand and had little impact on the ecosystem. After 100 years, nature has done much to recover her own.
These areas are green and alive. The topsoil is still in place. Healthy trees and the full range of natural vegetation can still grow there. There are not that many openings, and those that do exist can be precision-repaired.
Strip miners will extract not only the coal but also the DNA of the land. They would then have us believe that their dead, stony leavings are an improvement.
The major mine sites, including Prince Mine, are on lands owned by Devco. That Crown corporation has a budget of more than $110 million to address remediation issues on Devco properties. Devco should get on with the job.
The biggest myth is that strip mining returns the land to productive use. Most of the targeted land is already productive in timber, wildlife, recreation and groundwater integrity.
Natural landscapes add visual and economic value to our communities. Strip miners would remove every living thing from the surface, then dig through the bedrock to make holes 150 feet deep. The material used to backfill the hole is a smashed and crumpled porridge of acidic rock and rubble.
There are bare faced-lies and wooly-faced lies: be wary of both.
March 13, 2006
The news that Pioneer Coal of Antigonish was granted an environmental approval by the provincial government to mine coal on Boularderie Island is both troubling and disappointing.
It’s the same company that mined at Point Aconi from 1980-83, much to the objections of residents, and at the Reserve Airport, from 1987-92 where they leased land from Devco and five years later left a disgraceful mess. As well, it is alleged that they did plenty of damage to local property through blasting.
The former Reserve strip mine is situated slightly east of the Sydney Airport. Anyone wishing to view the moonscape left by the proponent may gain access to the mine from the old airport road. Before 1987, it contained wetlands formed over a long period of time.
Also, Renwick Brook entered the area and there was a small lake. Mr. John Chisholm, the owner of Pioneer Coal, referred to the acreage as the ‘Airport Swamp Coal Mine.’ What Mr. Chisholm regarded as a swamp or bog, citizens today regard as wetlands valuable as water filters that cannot be replaced once disturbed.
The announcement that mining would take place near the airport was made July 26, 1986. Joel Matheson, minister of mines, stated that he would not grant a permit to proceed without an indication that it would be acceptable to the local population.
The mine was promoted vigorously by County Councillor Julien Frison. He said in the Cape Breton Post, Aug. 15, 1986, that consumers needed good quality coal. If they didn’t get it locally, then Devco would have to import it. The Post reported that Mr. Frison “has full confidence that the land to be mined will be properly reclaimed.”
The strip mine was, as well, endorsed by the Cape Breton County Council.
Mr. Frison went on to say that “if strip mining employs people and the operation is undertaken in a proper manner, then why not. This is the consensus of the people of my district.”
MLA Dr. Michael Laffin’s position was that if the people wanted strip mining he would support them; if they did not, then he was prepared to resign from government. In the early 1980s, strip mining was halted in Gardiner East because Dr. Laffin stood with the people.
In the middle 1980s, the people of Port Morien who opposed a strip mine in their area received the same support from their MLA Donald ‘Big Donnie’ MacLeod. It is interesting to note that both men were members of a Conservative government which listened to the people.
In contrast, MLA Cecil Clarke said recently that strip mining was a done deal in Boularderie. In this regard, he failed to represent the wishes of his constituents. Despite a total rejection of his position, he attempted, on July 12, 2005, to sell strip mining to a hostile audience at Memorial High. At that meeting, he refused to make the commitment that he would take the concerns of the citizens to cabinet. Elsewhere, he said that he was not concerned with the political consequences of his position. What a difference 20 years makes!
The green light to mine at the airport was given at a meeting in Reserve Mines, Aug. 27, 1986. It was Mr. Frison, the chairman of that meeting, who sold strip mining to the area. There was a full and free discussion of the mine. Reclamation of land and jobs were the two themes promoted by Mr. Frison. He said that employment in the Reserve area was bleak and this operation would create a few jobs.
Mr. Frison told me recently that 27 jobs were created. However, 12 of those jobs were given to senior UMW employees working at Point Aconi. That mine was phased out after three years because of inflation, poor profits and inferior coal.
My understanding is that the other jobs went to unemployed union workers. Mr. Frison was unable to tell me exactly how many jobs were created in Reserve Mines. He readily admitted that two of his sons received jobs.
Mr. Frison said at the meeting that he had confidence that the mining would be done in an environmentally correct fashion. I intend to show next week that that was not the case, that Mr. Chisholm was no landscape architect. Mr. Chisholm’s company left the evidence behind.
(LeRoy Peach lives in Port Morien. His column appears every week in the Cape Breton Post.)
Saturday, March 4, 2006
Lesson No. 1: Governments do indeed change their mind. They do it all the time. We call it democracy, or the will of the people.
Lesson No. 2: Cabinet ministers do have the power to say no. That is why we elect them. Proposed legislation that might adversely affect a significant number of constituents, in any part of the province, can be withdrawn. That is also called democracy.
Lesson No. 3: No is an option. Without the right to say no, the democratic process does not work. Granted, business people do have a right to submit applications for leases to strip mine, but that does not imply that these applications will be approved, or should be approved.
We now have a new young premier, Rodney MacDonald, and a newly appointed minister of natural resources, Brooke Taylor. Would it be too much to hope that now is the time to take a new look at this legislation regarding strip mining, an issue that is so offensive to so many in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality?
(Rannie Gillis is an author and avid Celtic historian whose column appears every week in the Cape Breton Post. In January he wrote 3 half page articles detailing the strip mining issue which apparently prompted Minister Hurlburt's Feb 11th piece and the flood of Letters to the Editor below.)
Monday, February 27, 2006
Richard Hurlburt's Feb. 11 article (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too) said "some" and "several" residents of Cape Breton oppose strip mining. It was 72 percent of residents who opposed strip mining in one survey, as well as the councils of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Victoria County, our MP and our opposition parties.
What are the positives Mr. Hurlburt wants us to consider? If we lose our water, businesses and industries an our island will suffer greatly.
Destroying hundreds of acres of forest along with 45 acres of wetlands, nesting sites and wildlife habitat is not a positive in my mind, nor is putting at risk brooks such as Mill Creek and Aconi Brook, which are spawning areas for salmon, gaspereau, rainbow and speckled trout, and other species of fish.
One of the few who would find anything positive from strip mining would be John Chisholm of Pioneer Coal. He would be the person making millions of dollars from this project, while the community would be left to deal with the devastation for years to come.
Mr. Hurlburt worries that old pits are being used for dumping areas. He should visit Point Aconi, an area strip mined by Chisholm in the 1980s and used for a number of years as a dumping area. Recently the site has been cleaned up, but instead of the garbage being removed it was bulldozed over.
I guess the moral of the story is that litterbugs will dump garbage on your front lawn if they think they can get away with it.
Saturday, Feruary 25, 2006
Congratulations, and thanks for the many letters opposing strip mining that the Cape Breton Post has been printing lately.
Altogether, these letters have well and comprehensively put together the overwhelming case there is to be made against this kind of mining.
Given the many good and valid reasons to put a stop to any further strip mining in Cape Breton (or anywhere else, for that matter), ministers of the present government continuing to support it is beyond imagination.
One has to wonder just what is behind this support. It has to be more than the lame reasons they have given for it. Maybe they are just plain stupid.
Saturday, Feruary 25, 2006
I am not writing to spoil people's mood over the opening of the Donkin mine. But my mood has been spoiled ever since it was announced that Cape Breton would be moving backwards to this filthy, non-renewable industry.
Schooner Pond is a precious resource which is immediately next to the proposed mine site and will potentially be affected by the mine operations, the pollution and noise. It has one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Nova Scotia.
As is well known, wetlands are rapidly disappearing. Now, we are risking this one.
We should instead protect Schooner Pond from development. If should be designated as a provincial park with a protected wetland.
Opportunities in this beautiful area for eco-tourism should be capitalized on. The beach is covered in fossils and is a great place for snorkeling and kayaking.
There are wonderful trails with amazing views that are waiting to be hiked and biked. And, if you ask, any birding enthusiast will tell you it is the best place on the island for bird watching. It contains bald eagles, the endangered piping plover, snowy owls and many other species.
With a little vision, determination and hard work, we could create jobs and sustain the wonder of this area instead of plundering it for 30 years worth of dirty coal.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
For years Cape Breton has been trying to encourage people to retire here. For many who had to leave to earn a living, when the time came for retirement there was but one place in our hearts with the pastoral beauty to soothe the soul. In my case it has been for the last 15 years on Boularderie Island.
The population is a good mix of young vibrant families, those hitting middle age, and my group - the retired seniors.
Seniors contribute to the economy of Cape Breton. They are not often in the snowbird group and so their contribution is year-round on carefully budgeted pensions. None of us ever dreamed that a desecration of Boularderie Island was about to occur, which would destroy pristine ecosystems and make the homes we have worked all our lives for uninhabitable and virtually worthless.
Now we have the constant worry of loss of potable water. Not many understand that Boularderie wells are fed by an aquifer, an underground freshwater lake.
Should this be pierced by strip mining to a possible depth of 180 feet, the water will run out and the sides will cave in and all of Boularderie will be without water.
Those of us on pension cannot just pick up and move. Our savings went into our move to enable us to spend our golden years here.
Now we wait and protest, write letters, contact the government, go through all the hoops of what the politicians refer to as the process, and we get absolutely no recognition from the Tory government. Rather, we are denigrated for not being well informed (Premier John Hamm), for refusing to see the positives (Natural Resources Minister Richard Hur1burt), for ignoring the assurances of mitigation (Environment Minister Kerry Morash, despite the negative reality of the government-sponsored environmental study by Jacques Whitford), and finally for overreacting (MLA and minister of energy, Cecil Clarke) - all because the government thinks it will get $1 per ton on sulphurous coal while leaving our island decimated.
Seniors need the respect of the government. We should not have to live with such a very real dilemma.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
In response to Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt's article, Consider the Positives: Surface Mining Offers an Opportunity to Rehabilitate Areas Left Unreclaimed (Weekend Feedback, Feb. 11), I believe the coal to be extracted does not comply with Kyoto requirements and will be outlawed by 2012. That could be why the government is so anxious to get it out now. More interested in business interests than in curtailing pollution, the" government does not deem it convenient to abide by Kyoto and chooses, without consultation, to follow the road to more pollution.
The sulphur content in Point Aconi's coal is seven per cent, while one per cent by today's scientific standards is considered high.
The so-called surface mining, which will spread over as much as 29,000 acres, is not "surface" mining at all. Monstrous machines will be used, causing more complete devastation of the kind you can witness if you drive in the Point Aconi area.
The project will employ very few workers. None of this grab will benefit the area in any way. This is all negatives for Cape Breton.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
In his summary of the opposition to strip mining that has been boiling in our area for two years, Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt notes that residents have voiced their opposition in articles and letters to the editor (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too, Feb. ll).
He fails to mention the many radio commentaries, the dozens of packed meetings in numerous community halls, the demonstrations and the 3,000-plus names on antistrip mining petitions.
Apparently he is unaware of the mayor's poll in which 72 per cent opposed strip mining. In communities where people know something about strip mining, the percentage rises very close to 100 per cent against.
In his attempt to diminish the opposition, Mr. Hurlburt illustrates his willingness to override the will of the people.
John Hamm said the best advice he had ever received as premier was to listen to the people. It appears some of his ministers choose to listen to the people only if it suits their purpose.
Mr. Hurlburt's article notes the public meeting on July 12, 2005, where the government had its chance to present the benefits of strip mining. The government made the most of that opportunity with slide shows, posters and presentations by various departments. Energy Minister Cecil Clarke took the podium to deliver his unique support.
As an attempt to win the public, the event was a failure. Later, Mr. Clarke heard two hours of objections from the large audience. Not one voice was raised in support of strip mining. Like Mr. Hurlburt, Mr. Clarke heard but he hasn't listened.
Mr. Hurlburt gives some examples of what he considers successful reclamation. Visit the sites and you will see the destruction and waste that is strip mining. Then the emptiness of his assertions will be exposed.
The evidence is written on the land and the government cannot erase it.
The article is accompanied by a photo of Alder Point to show wood lands on a reclaimed strip mine from the 1970s. The minister doesn't mention that Devco mined there for one year, then spent three years trying to put the land back. In the end, it spent more money on reconstruction than the coal was worth. Even so, a close look at the picture will reveal the sparsely treed outline of the mine - 35 years later.
Mr. Hurlburt needs to understand that Cape Bretoners do not want to exchange the beauty of our island for rolling hills of hydro-seeded grass.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
It is easy to sit in Halifax and dictate to a secretary thoughts about the positives of strip mining in areas that aren't densely populated and hope to make a positive impression (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too: Surface Mining Offers an Opportunity to Rehabilitate Areas Left Unreclaimed, Feb. 11).
We are not that ignorant and do not appreciate an invasion of the quality of life for family, friends and neighbours, and future generations.
No one will guarantee us that our water quality or quantity, or both, will not be affected.
We have seen in the past how our topsoils are removed and mostly buried. It takes a thousand years for nature to make one inch of topsoil.
Land left after stripping is unstable for future use. Sure, you can walk on it, but you cannot build on it, now or ever, unless you use pillars.
During stripping, sometimes waste is deposited on the bottom, such as old crude oil salvaged from sunken tankers.
We on Boulardarie Island, and especially in Millville, have a microclimate that we may lose due to the change in landscape that strip mining would produce. Removing trees will have an extreme effect on the wind.
During the stripping, blasting will take place; regardless of promises and regulations, dishes will rattle, plaster and foundations will crack, and aquifers will change directions.
Regulations are not adhered to, and in any case seem to be bent in such a way as to accommodate the business and its profit. Promises are kept partially or not at all.
All of our municipal councillors are opposed to strip mining as presented.
Rehabilitation of areas with open pits, mine shafts, and piles of coal waste can be done by filling with the coal waste. It would involve only a few acres here and there and not cost millions of dollars, as Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurburt stated in his Feb. 11 article. Successful reclamation has taken place in some areas. However, those areas were in such a mess that any work would have enhanced them. In time there will be ways to extract these resources without all the complications.
Expedite the opening of Donkin if the government is so desperate for coal.
Monday, February 20, 2006
We have previous correspondence from Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt stating it is not his department's role to promote strip mining. His article in the Cape Breton Post on Feb. ll (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too) not only promotes it but does so with exaggerated and misleading information.
Mr. Hurlburt says it would cost Nova Scotia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the damage of previous mining on our island. The most prominent coal effected lands are owned by Devco, which has been assigned a large federal budget to clean them up.
The situation with old bootleg mines and crop pits is not even close to the scale that he frantically describes. These were relatively shallow operations dug by hand. The signature of bootleg mines on the land would be easily identified by the DNR if it cared to do so.
Subsidence of bootleg tunnels usually shows on the surface as a minor depression, if it shows at all. The tunnels were only the two or three foot high. Subsidence of narrow bootleg tunnels does not present a hazard. Anyone who can walk up a few stairs can walk into and out of these depressions.
A hazard does exist where there are abandoned access shafts, airways or open crop pits. These are very limited in number. On Devco's properties, they are simply identified, investigated and backfilled. The holes are repairable without tearing apart all of the surrounding landscape.
DNR has an annual budget of $50,000 to address hazardous mine openings. With that it could repair all the crop pits on Boularderie Island and have money left over. Instead, it chooses to obtain maximum leverage from them to promote strip mining.
If Mr. Hurlburt exaggerates the dangers of not strip mining, he outdoes himself when discussing the benefits. He must be kidding when he tells us one of the benefits to the people of Stellarton is a "tall land feature for a water tower" and "preparatory sites that the community will refinish as a sports facility. "
In Cape Breton we call a tall land feature a hill, and leaving behind a hill is a benefit for the mining company since it makes large hills as part of the business anyway and this would be one it didn't have to level. A preparatory site for a sports facility sounds like a flat, empty field. That's quite a gift to the community from the mining company that made millions of dollars profit. We already have numerous excellent sports facilities and I'll wager that our tall land features look a lot better than the hump left behind by Pioneer Coal at Stellarton. Let's keep it that way.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Just as the government can deny an application for a permit to drive a motor vehicle, the government does indeed have the power to deny applications for permits to strip mine.
What's the point of even having departments of natural resources or environment if No is not an option, as Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt claims (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too, Feb. ll)?
At a meeting on Jan. 27, Energy Minister Cecil Clarke said the federal government had allocated $155 million to clean up Devco's mine sites. Mr. Hurlburt fails to mention this and wants us to believe that the cleanup would cost Nova Scotia taxpayers "hundreds of millions of dollars" if we don't destroy thousands of acres of Cape Breton with strip mining as soon as possible.
Why can't anyone else find any "revegetation" at Little Pond? If the regulations are as "stringent" as Mr. Hurlburt claims, why has a court order been issued to clean up the site and why has the company applied for a permit to strip mine yet another 5,500 tonnes of coal instead?
And why does Brogan Mining list "providing revenue for the company during completion of reclamation operations" as one of the "benefits" of further strip mining if a "reclamation security deposit" was required, as Mr. Hurlburt claims?
Since reporting the facts is so challenging for Mr. Hurlburt, perhaps the new premier can appoint him to a more suitable job, like shovelling garbage. Here's hoping.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Environment Minister Kerry Morash said on radio recently that strip mining is not his initiative. He pointed to a "legislated process" that he says he cannot control.
Energy Minister Cecil Clarke made similar public statements. Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt has said that the decision to strip or not is ultimately out of his hands. Again, "the process" is named.
With each minister pointing finger away from himself, it looks like they all are becoming embarrassed, and rightly so.
The three main provincial ministers associated with strip mining claim "the process" is superior to their positions as representatives of the people. Apparently that makes it superior to democracy.
If our elected lawmakers can't change legislation, then who is driving the bus? Laws can be changed. Slavery is long dead and we don't burn witches anymore. Strip mining for coal should go the same way.
The process put in place by the Government of Nova Scotia is effective. It was designed with weighty favouritism toward mining companies, ignoring the rights of citizens to a peaceful existence in their communities.
The mining companies get a one or two-year head start, with much government hand-holding. The public's first opportunity for official input occurs after the mining company has filed for environmental approval. The company is crossing the blueline before we are allowed to put on our skates.
Even then, public comment on the application is limited to two weeks of letter-writing to some office in Halifax. The details of the company's mining plan is kept secret. The amount of reclamation bond posted is also a secret. No wonder the approach is steadfastly rejected in Cape Breton.
Mr. Hurlburt hopes his article, Consider the Positives Too (Weekend Feedback, Feb. ll), will win some respect. He's about two years too late. If the ministers want respect from a democratic society, they will have to show it for the will of the people.
Some months ago, the government scrapped an affordable housing project in Sackville because of public opposition. That opposition must pale in comparison to the conflict raging here.
The government is at odds with the people for the benefit of Pioneer Coal and other strip miners. That is not progress. Our ministers can regain respect and confidence by announcing that the misconceived approach to strip mining in Cape Breton has been scrapped.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
While Nova Scotia Natural Resource Minister Richard Hurlburt's comments (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too, Feb. 11) have some merit, his attempts at simplifying a complex socioeconomic issue fail in several respects.
His negative remarks directed at Ranni Gillis are uncalled for, and saying others who oppose strip mining are taking the easy way is unfair and inaccurate. Mr. Gillis has a great love for the natural splendour of Cape Breton and his concern for the traumatic disruption of mining is well founded.
I also know many hard-working individuals who have devoted many hours to researching environmental issues, visiting sites, attending meetings and petitioning the public. Given the record of an industry that saw very little government regulation, it is no wonder to me that more than a few are opposed to strip mining.
The last time I walked through the glens and hills of Broughton I saw no evidence of reclamation. You have to walk through a strip mine site to get a true appreciation of how profound the natural environment is disrupted.
We live in a democracy where all citizens have a right to express their opinions and entrepreneurs have the right to extract minerals. It is the government's role to ensure that the mining does not impact in a negative way upon the lifestyles and well-being of citizens in close proximity or on others whose health is threatened by the burning of lowgrade coal in electrical generating stations.
Strip mining removes many hectares of productive industrial forest land that supports one of Nova Scotia's major industries and is the primary producer of the oxygen we breathe as well as the buffer that retards the rate of water evaporation into the atmosphere.
Given the cost of reclamation, I am very doubtful there will ever be enough revenue to reclaim the hundreds of hectares across Cape Breton in need of remedial action. As the Sydney tar ponds so aptly show, short-term economic gain may not be enough justification for the longterm costs, including the impact on the health of citizens.
Those in opposition most definitely have a right to express their opinions and to be heard. They are to be praised for standing up for a way of life and a landscape that is rapidly disappearing in North America.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
What gives Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt the right to criticize any citizen group (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Too, Feb. 11)?
When citizens in large numbers become critical of government departments, the government should be listening to the people, not promoting what the citizens are against.
When Hurlburt refers to us as a small group he is way off base. The numbers speak and our support continues to grow right across this nation, where people used to have some say. Now we really don't have any say in how our government represents us.
When another elected official from off this island becomes publicly critical of the people and our own elected minister continues to ignore the demands of his constituents to stop strip mining, it appears the people are rapidly losing their right to freedom of speech and to be critical of government and officials.
It seems they strike back at the people when the truth is obvious or when the people put on the heat. To criticize them is to be labelled as a radical. What this country needs is more radicals.
The government says it listens to the people but it completely ignores the message. The government has its own agenda and loves to keep it secret.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I encourage as many Cape Bretoners as possible to view the areas that Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt discusses as evidence that surface mining offers an opportunity to rehabilitate areas left unreclaimed (Weekend Feedback: Consider the Positives Feb. 11).
The Tory government plans to continue" "rehabilitatlon" in 14 areas on Cape Breton Island.
Before I became involved with the Citizens Against Strip Mining I took the time to check out the areas that have been "surface" (strip) mined. In no way were these areas rehabilitated. Moonscape comes to mind.
I think that since this issue is of such legitimate concern, Hurlburt. along with Environment and Labour Minister Kerry Morasb. Energy Minister Cecil Clarke and the new Tory leader should make a thorough, personal inspection of what Hurlburt refers to as the positives. It should not be just a quick perusal. as is the case of Mr. Morash, but they should dedicate days to this and see the land for themselves.
There is no doubt in my mind if this were done, Hurlburt. Clarke and even the new leader would be making a rnore informed and different evaluation.
Hurlburt does not mention that the surface mining (a euphemism for strip mining) probably will be to the depth of 160 feet at least!
It is also essential that Cape Bretoners come together on this issue. Boularderie is just the start of the devastation of Nova Scotia's masterpiece. l know that many Cape Bretoners have fought with all their hearts for many other issues and lost. Start fresh: we have to get rid of the "What's the sense?" attitude and stand up for our countryside and what it means to all of us.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Consider the positives too - Surface mining offers an opportunity to rehabilitate areas left unreclaimed
For the past year, articles, letters to the editor and columns by several Cape Breton residents have promoted an end to suface mining on the island. Their views, the only ones being heard, suggest that there are no positive aspects to surface mining.
The public meeting on July 12, 2005, at Memorial High School in Sydney Mines was an effort to provide full and accurate information. Don Jones, director of mineral development and management with the Department of Natural Resources, made a presentation about surface mining in Cape Breton. During this meeting, Mr. Jones said about surface mining: "No is not an option. No is not a realistic approach."
Columnist Rannie Gillis (We Were Dumbfounded to Hear an Official Tell Us that No Was Not an Option, In Search of Cape Breton, Jan. 14) casts this comment in a negative light but his interpretation is simply inaccurate. Mr. Jones' comment reflects the reality that despite the adverse opinions of some community members, businesses have a right to submit applications for mining leases. They also have a right to have those leases evaluated and judged impartially.