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Saturday, February 11, 2006
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback

Consider the positives too
Surface mining offers an opportunity to rehabilitate areas left unreclaimed
BY RICHARD HURLBURT

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.

Cape Breton has a long and proud history of coal mining. For a long time King Coal was the major economic generator for Cape Breton and a significant contributor for Nova Scotia.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when some surface, underground and colliery mine operators finished extracting the resource, they simply walked away, leaving "a scar on the face of our beautiful province," as Premier John Hamm noted during a Sept. 21 news conference.

This problem is widespread and results from both legal and illegal mining.

This legacy of problems includes open pits; mine shafts, ' piles of coal waste and subsidence caused by the collapse of underground tunnels. Solving these issues would cost the Nova Scotia taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars over a timespan that would be almost unimaginable.

In an effort to hasten this process and dramatically reduce if not eliminate the cost to the taxpayer, I have been working to implement the province's minerals policy, which says, in part: "The government will provide leadership by implementing the policy and ensuring that the necessary conditions are maintained for the mineral industry to create wealth for present and future generations of Nova Scotians,

This is reflected in the Minerals Act and complementary legislation. The province's strategic intention is to encourage business to extract minerals to provide employment, economic benefit and future pros- perity for the,people of Cape Breton and any other region of Nova Scotia where there are mineral deposits that can be used to enhance the quality of life for our friends, families and neighbours.

The regulations governing surface mining are much more stringent today than at any time in the past. The surface mines of today and tomorrow will be required to leave reclaimed sites that will benefit the nearby communities and provide an opportunity to clean up some of the problems left by past operations.

This approach provides several benefits: ,

All modern surface mines are bonded for reclamation. When we provide a mineral lease, we also require the operator to provide a reclamation security deposit with the government to ensure that the site will be reclaimed to a condition that is set out in the reclamation plan even if the company cannot or will not reclaim the site. If the company does not meet this requirement, government will use the deposit to do so.

As old, abandoned mine sites are reactivated, the coal resources are extracted and-the open areas are backfflled, which eliminates residual cavities and openings of former mines.

The mine operators accomplish this as part of their operations and their contracted commitment with the province. Each former mine site that is remediated represents substantial savings to taxpayers.

Each mine that is opened provides direct'employment for Nova Scotians at the site and significant secondary work in a wide variety of support trades, including vehicle fuel, lubricants and servicing, hardware, specialized equipment and business and office supplies, as well as accommodations and restaurants, to mention only a few. -Excavation of abandoned mine sites provides an opportunity to remove and neutralize old coal waste'piles, many of which generate acidic water through reaction with surface waters.

There are many examples of successful reclamation of former mine sites and of more recent surface mines.

For example, Devco surfacemined an area at Alder Point in he early 1970s. Today this site is fully restored with mature trees growing where the mine was excavated and then backfilled.

At Little Pond, near Sydney Mines, residual problems left behind from the 1950s included contaminated pools and hills of tailings and coal waste that stood 20 meters high and several kilometres long, as well as abandoned mine shafts that posed a threat to walkers and anyone concerned about subsidence. Over the years, these pits have become dumping grounds for domestic garbage, creating severe environmental problems. These problems are being addressed and revegetation of the site has begun.

A third example is Sullivan's Creek, with problems similar to Little Pond. The site was reclaimed through mining the

remaining coal reserves at abandoned No. 4 Colliery, and revegetation has begun there as well. This is a grassed landscape that is safe to use by private landowners.

Yet another site, at Halfway Road in Sydney Mines, is a significant success for reclamation mining. This area was undermined by eight underground mines and many illegal pits. A bulk sample of 10,000 tonnes was extracted in 2003-04, which removed as many as 50 areas of collapsed ground and restored, with sustainable grass and vegetation, six hectares of land into rolling terrain.

In the spring, the company plans to transplant nursery stock tree seedlings to help convert this land back to a safe habitat for wildlife and for the enjoyment of the public.

This is still an active mining site, and in summer 2005 the: company started a revegetation ; program there. More work is still required, but when it is: completed this once barren,desolate and unusable land will be restored for use by future generations.

Efforts to reclaim several sites which closed in the 1990s require further efforts to regenerate grass, foliage and trees. In these cases, the mining leaseholders and the department are working together to ensure complete revegetation.

It is easy to be critical, adversarial and obstructionist, discovering and indicating only the problems. Being constructive is much more challenging:'

The municipal and civic leaders of Stellarton were ready to embrace the challenges of accepting a surface mine irt their community. What did they get in return?

They received susatalned employment with generous remuneration, commercial activity because of the purchase of goods and services, and the co-operation' of the mine leasee who has agreed to leave behind a tall land feature for a water tower and preparatory sites that the community will refinish as a state-of-the-art sports facility, including an Olympic-size track capable of hosting major sports events.

Those who dismiss surface mining in Cape Breton are attempting to deny similar benefits to communities which are almost literally sitting on top of a resource that mean an economic and employment generator for local residents; a way to address abandoned mines and potential subsidence sites, saving millions of dollars for tax-. payers; and a restored site that can provide a natural setting with areas for recreation and wildlife habitat.

I encourage all residents of Cape Breton to look carefully at both sides of this issue before making up their minds on whether development of surface mining is or is not a positive factor for their area.

Richard Hurlburt is Nova Scotia's minister of natural resources.

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