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Tempers flare over Matador Mining bridge gate

John Sferrazza, environmental consultant and Crispin Pike, geologist with Matador Mining during a meeting with residents of Isle aux Morts on Monday evening, Aug. 30. – © Ryan King

By RYAN KING

ISLE AUX MORTS – Tempers ran high at a town meeting in Isle aux Morts held last Monday evening, Aug. 30. The meeting was held between Matador Mining and town residents to discuss the company’s infrastructure work, necessary to complete mining operations. Part of the growing infrastructure includes a bridge that was installed in the same place as a river crossing, a spot which has long been used by residents to access their cabins and crown land.

The bridge itself is not the issue. In fact, residents are happy to make use of the bridge, but the company’s recent installation of a gate across it has been restricting their access to their properties, a situation that prompted resident Curtis Wells to speak out.

“There’s a trail there. It’s actually a mine access road. Between Isle aux Morts and Margaree, there’s a mine road, and it goes in 21 kilometers to the mine site. That is pretty much right on the Isle aux Morts river that you cross going to Isle aux Morts. That’s the same river. They put a bridge there a couple of years ago, and we’ve been using it, back and forth. But they decided they wanted to erect a gate to keep people off the other side. But the problem is that the bridge is on crown land, attached to crown land on both sides. We’re allowed to access crown land, anywhere,” said Wells.

The meeting, which was held at the 50+ Club, had an impressive turnout from residents, and equally impressive was their determination to find a solution, with Wells being among the more vocal.

Crispin Pike, a geologist and John Sferrazza, an environmental engineer, represented Matador Mining and led the meeting.

Pike began by expressing thanks for the turnout, and the desire for Matador and town residents to find a solution. He explained the necessity of Matador’s growing infrastructure and the benefits that it means for the town such as jobs, while acknowledging its impact on residents.

Pike explained that the company erected the gate as a safety measure, as unauthorized residential traffic through their work site greatly increased as upgrades made travel through the area easier, but as the project grows there is also much more heavy equipment on the other side of the bridge. Matador is concerned about an accident.

However, Pike did state that the relationship with residents is paramount, and the company wants to work together to find a solution.

Among the solutions discussed were removal of the bridge altogether, creating an alternate river crossing nearby exclusively for residents, manning the gate with a guard, and creating a way for residents to get a key to unlock the gate to access their lands and cabins.

The meeting ran until approximately 8:40 p.n., and while no final decision was made, options will continue to be explored. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for the next evening with a smaller group, including Wells, to explore the matter further.

As he left the meeting, Wells said that a resolution looked promising.

“We have another meeting again tomorrow at my place, and he’s going to try and give me some sort of an answer, ” said Wells.

Wells noted that this is not the first time there were concerns over the impact of the mining operation.

“We had this trouble last year. They kind of slipped it out last year, and this year we noticed the same problem. We’ve got a local outfitter just up the other side of Port aux Basques,” said Wells. “If they can stop us on that bridge, they’re going to stop us in that other area, which I told them is still in our area to hunt.”

Wells believes gating and locking the bridge infringes on the right of residents to access crown land.

“It shouldn’t be there. They don’t have the right to put it there. And we just want the access to get over there, where we went years ago. Yes, we went across the river before, but now they got a bridge and a road on crown land, and we’re allowed to access crown land,” said Wells.

Though the meeting grew heated at times, Wells said that having a discussion was only a first step.

“I’m hoping he’ll come up with some kind of a resolution for a key, anyway that we’ll get to use it. But then again, you’re kind of discriminating against a certain crowd. They’re going to let so many in and not the others. So, I don’t know how that’s going to work,” said Wells.

Pike was also pleased with how the meeting went.

“I was kind of worried that there would be only a handful of people there or something, but it is great that lots of people from the community made it out,” said Pike.

He also said that further discussions are needed to reach a workable resolution.

“The main thing is, from Matador’s stance, is we want to keep everybody safe – our guys safe and the general public safe. But we also want to work with the community to allow them to access the land as they did before with the least amount of disturbance,” offered Pike, who had informal discussions with some residents prior to the meeting. “They would want access to what it was two years ago is what would make people happy. Going into the meeting, that’s what I thought. But it seems that some of the people would like to see some changes in the access and I’m willing to work with them, the company is willing to work with them.”

A long-term solution remains unclear, but Pike said there plenty of suggestions.

“Hopefully we can all come to an agreement and the people and the cabin owners from Isle aux Morts will be happy, and we can keep everybody safe,” said Pike.

Pike understood why the residents got heated at times.

“Sometimes you have people that are speaking for the group, and I understand that too, because I’m also speaking for a group of people and the Board of Directors of the company so it’s healthy for us to hear people’s ideas,” offered Pike.

Pike also clarified that the company’s concerns arising from people crossing the bridge in vehicles stems from the general public making use of the improved roads but ignoring safety signage.

“The main thing is the volume, the volume of traffic. If there’s just the cabin owners, people aren’t at their cabins every day. So, there’s probably, I don’t know the exact numbers, but say there’s 20 cabins. If half the people are up to their cabin, you’re talking about 10 people that could potentially be in the area and then half those might want to cross the bridge. So you’re talking a low number of people,” explained Pike.

This easier access across the bridge has resulted in a noticeable increase in traffic by the general public, not just the cabin owners.

“They come down for a visit and they drive on through and the road ends at the bridge, and then if the gate is not on the bridge, then they cross the bridge. Obviously there’s signage, there’s signage everywhere – all up and down the road – about work crews and heavy equipment, and all kinds of signage like that. But people do drive right by our signs,” said Pike. “We know they drive by the signs because we have a Bypass Road put in to bypass the camp, and there’s a big sign like ‘Public Traffic Please Use Bypass,’ and you know a lot of the traffic comes right through our camp. This is a daily thing.”

Matador has no intention of keeping people from accessing their cabins, but is focused on keeping its employees and the public safe.

“We’re not trying to stop anybody from going on crown land, especially people that have been going there for a long time. We’re just trying to stop the flow of traffic that went through an industrial area where there’s lots of heavy equipment,” said Pike.

“On the South side of the bridge it’s not a work site. That’s an access to a work site. So we do have equipment on the road, basically fixing up the road, which is very periodic. Perhaps, you know, 20 total days a year we have heavy equipment actually doing work on the road or a month a year, and we have access vehicles going back and forth. And we’ve done a lot of work to satisfy health and safety concerns. We’ve upgraded the bridges. We’ve put in signage. We put in speed limit signs. We have put in guardrails.”

The situation changes once you cross over the bridge.

“As we enter the north side of the bridge, that’s our main work site. So we have a lot of heavy equipment and it’s back and forth daily. So that’s why there’s a difference when we cross into the north side of the area. There’s a lot more health and safety concerns, and the big thing is ATV, side by side, heavy equipment dangers,” said Pike.

The dangers aren’t hypothetical, and limited communication is part of the concern.

“We’ve had vehicle incidents on that road and it’s just dangerous. There are huge blind spots in this heavy equipment and we use radio communication to pass. So for instance, there’s an excavator on the road, ATV drives up behind the excavator, is just parked there, it looks like it’s not moving. You wait three or four minutes all around it and then the bucket moves, and there’s an accident, so it’s a dangerous area,” explained Pike.

The second meeting the next evening between Wells, Pike and others also failed find a clear solution despite initial beliefs that keys to the gate would be made available.

“It actually went well. We came to an agreement here. I’m just going to post on a group that I have here and I’ll let everybody else know what it’s all about, but that I think is going to work out,” said Wells. “We will work out the details, but it pretty much seems like it’s going to work.”

While Wells seemed confident that this will be the solution, Pike observed that while steps were made towards a resolution, further discussions will be needed before anything is set in stone.

“That’s as far as we are now, but I would say it was a positive meaning for sure, and we’re both trying hard to find common ground,” said Pike. “Both parties showed willingness to work together and make things work out, so we have high hopes it will all get settled.”

Pike noted that using keys remains an option, but it is still too soon to say if the matter is resolved.

“Until the information is distributed to the larger group and everybody agrees, then there’s no resolution yet. It doesn’t instantly happen, but the general feeling that I had from the meeting was that we’re all going to make it work.”

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