After reading the Wreckhouse Weekly on Aug. 24, 2020 and the article entitled “Matador Mining makes progress”, I have some thoughts and questions.
Before I state those, I’d like to start with: how long does 10 years feel like? How connected are you to the place you live? How do we define progress in an age of ever increasing awareness of social, environmental and sustainability issues?
Matador Mining states that they will “continue to work with various stakeholders including outfitters, special interest groups and indigenous communities and will continue to work with the public to mitigate concerns.” Mitigate concerns sounds co-operative but also makes me question their statement.
How will Matador mitigate the destruction of entire ecosystems or the poisoning of area watersheds? How will they communicate with all Indigenous people or communities? How will Matador communicate laterally and equally with all stakeholders when the land itself is a stakeholder?
In the article, it states that Matador will host public meetings to address concerns only after federal and provincial governments environmental guidelines have been met; that is, only after they are prepared to go ahead.
If we look to the practices of extractive industry, it’s not hard to see the destruction left in its wake. Look to British Columbia, where in 2015, thousands of gallons of slurry burst into Polley Lake, from the Mount Polley Gold Mine, ruining the watershed.
Recently, the actions of Canadian company Barrick Gold led to several cyanide spills into rivers in Argentina, including a spill of over a million litres. Between 1908 and 1939, a Canadian company released several hundred thousand tonnes of gold mine tailings over the land in Sudbury, Ontario. Eighty-one years later, the region is still coping with the elevated arsenic levels in the water, to say nothing of the upgrades required to the containment facility.
Tailings ponds are known to be extraordinarily pollutive. Tailings are an aqueous slurry of mine wastes that require perpetual containment, and must be dumped and stored in water. The contaminants can be transported by wind and water to cover an even larger distance. We’ve all seen how far salt spray can be carried – imagine the evaporation of water and picture Wreckhouse winds over a tailings pond.
Run off is very often acidic, which dissolves heavy metals like mercury. However, highly acidic run-off is one of the very highest forms of mining related pollution. It is not uncommon that metal contaminants from mining activity settle into soils. These metals are not biodegradable and the soil is contaminated for generations.
We are all connected to the land that Matador intends to mine. What are the real, tangible benefits of a project like this? The mine will certainly provide a few jobs locally, and create economic spinoffs through local procurement. However, with a project lifespan of ten years consider the true legacy of the project.
How does resource extraction affect the way that people see the land to which they belong? Do we see the value in unblemished ecosystems, healthy for future generations, or do we look only to benefit ourselves? Do we give consideration to the plants and animals, or are we the top of the food chain?
I also wonder where the benefits (which is to say, the money) from the Matador Mine project will really go? Some products will be purchased here on the island, there will be some menial, short term jobs. But Australia is an entire world away, and while the company states that they’ve hired other companies from St. John’s and Gander to work in the field here, how far will 10 years of work really go locally? Even if they do meet their environmental responsibilities and do a few years of remediation work, the land will never be the same. No one will recognize the land after a gold mine tosses it aside.
If the Southwestern community is really to be invested in, wouldn’t subsidy in local people, businesses and agencies with an eye to the future, sustainability and caring for this place be reasonable to act on?
As John Spencer, the Mayor of Port-Aux-Basques says in his letter to the editor appearing in the same edition, “don’t just show up, do more.” It is simply not enough to say that industry is important or that the project will infuse money into Southwest Newfoundland. It’s not enough when the activity that will bring money will also completely alter, beyond repair, the very land that we call home. Today’s and our future youth are the ones who will have to deal with the leftovers after Matador is long gone. We are part of this natural network.
Do more and look farther than 10 years, take the long view. And do better. Port aux Basques has been working hard to become a destination and to encourage people to stay — more investment in the community will do just that.