The sounds of a helicopter flying low over her home in Merigomish immediately triggered concern for Trudi Rhynold, owner of Piedmont Valley Farms and a landowner in Pictou County.
The deafening sounds weren’t what worried Rhynold most. It was how low the helicopter was flying.
“The first time it passed, I thought maybe it was going up over the hill to crash,” Rhynold said.
The helicopter was actually surveying the land.
“There was no previous notice to residents here that this type of surveying was going to be going on. I called the airport in Trenton, because I didn’t know what this helicopter was doing.”
That encounter was the first of two Rhynold had with Northern Shield Resources. The company, she learned from Trenton airport officials, was prospecting in the area for gold, through an affiliate company, Seabourne Resources.
“They told me they had no control over what the prospectors were doing,” Rhynold said. “They told me I should file a complaint with the RCMP.”
The helicopter made several trips over the area where Piedmont Valley Farms is located, near Merigomish.
Rhynold documented what went on, via her Facebook page, with a video to show how low the helicopter flew over her land.
“Once I knew they were supposed to be flying that low, I wasn’t as concerned for the health of those people on the helicopter.”
A year ago, Rhynold was contacted by a local representative hired to be the face of the company.
Rhynold was asked if they could use a trail on her property to access an adjacent lot.
She allowed them, “not knowing the full implications behind that,” and hasn’t heard back from them since. That, she contended, was inadequate consultation.
“Now, the whole valley is leased to a corporation,” Rhynold said.
Ian Bliss, CEO and president of Northern Shield Resources, said company policy is to consult everyone in an area in which they are doing work.
“I think in that particular case, we had a prospector. He was granted permission and then another resident was against it.”
Bliss says the company consulted 100 landowners in the area over the past year, and a majority were supportive.
“In this particular case, the next time we’re down there, we’re going to go back to those people and explain what we’re trying to do,” Bliss said.
Bliss noted there will be everything from town hall-style consultations to individual door-knocking done in coming months, to open up dialogue with local landowners.
“We want to give them opportunities to explain their concerns. It’s a matter of dialogue, and we want to explain what we’re trying to do, to lay it out more clearly.”
Not worth the risk
Rhynold stands in steadfast opposition to any mining activity in an area that includes Piedmont Valley Farms.
She noted the environmental risk that mining in the Shot Rock area entails is not worth what little return there will be, especially for local residents.
Rhynold stressed that no percentage of royalties is worth the damage to the environment that a gold mine operation would entail, if it were to come to fruition.
“They seem to have a mandate toward mineral exploration at this point and have negotiated deals of one per cent [for the government],” Rhynold said.
That “makes it pretty difficult to plan your own business, when you have the possibility that the province will come and take your land from you next year, to develop someone else’s business,” she noted.
At the crux of the matter
A central issue is the fact that although Rhynold owns the land Piedmont Valley sits on, she doesn’t own what’s under it.
According to Don James, executive director of geoscience and mines branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry, landowners in the province own land, but they don’t own what’s under the land.
“Under the property of everyone with land in Nova Scotia, the minerals in Nova Scotia belong to the Crown, not the landowner,” James said.
It doesn’t sit well with Rhynold.
“I’ve been investing in this piece of land and suddenly they’re going to come out and dig underneath us,” she said.
Bliss said when a company stakes a claim to the mineral rights under the land, “for want of a better term, a company leases the rights and has access to those mineral rights. But you still need permission from the owner of the land on the surface.”
James said the Shot Rock Property is in the early exploratory stages, a process that entails prospectors collecting rock and soil samples, along with gold samples from streams and conducting airborne geophysical surveys of the land.
“We’re mapping rocks we can find, looking for outcrops, and taking samples,” Bliss said. “Where the rock isn’t exposed at some point, we may need to build a hole to the bedrock to check out what it is. It’s basically just building a picture of what’s underground.”
James noted the first step is always a mineral exploration process.
“If they make a mineral discovery, they will need something called a mineral lease,” James said.
The mineral lease would give the company exclusive rights to mine the minerals under that land.
“Mineral lease doesn’t permit them to go into operation without an environmental assessment approved by the Nova Scotia government.”
James noted there are many conditions that need to be met before opening any kind of mine in Nova Scotia, and very few come to fruition, because often, there just isn’t enough of a particular resource to justify opening a mine.
According to James and Bliss, the chances of a mine actually coming to the Shot Rock property is about one in 10,000. It is entirely dependent on the outcome of the prospecting in the area.
“There are over 1,300 explorations in the province,” James said.
Most importantly, he added, any company looking to establish a mine in the area would need the permission of the provincial and federal governments.
“It’s not like you’re going to look out the window tomorrow and see it pop up,” Bliss said, noting the time frame for establishment of a mine can be anywhere from 10 to 25 years.
“We are in the absolute beginning stages.”
If a mine were ever to come to fruition, it would be at the end of a gauntlet of geophysical surveys, sample drilling and social review.
“We abide by the Ministry of Energy and Mines, so we always follow their guidelines,” Bliss said.
Rhynold objected to the way royalties are calculated, in the event of a gold mine being developed in the province.
James said in the case of gold, royalties to the province are one per cent of what gets sold from the mine, adding “there is absolutely no variance to that.”
“For landowners the mineral exploration company must have explicit permission of the landowners to enter onto private property, and they have to tell the owner precisely what they’re going to do,” James said. “They can’t just enter onto private property to carry out their work.”
James noted any potential project would require permits from both provincial and federal regulators, in addition to passing an environmental assessment.
“There are no laws in the province that protect landowners or give them any right to anything below the surface of the soil – that belongs to the province,” Rhynold said.
“For us to think these companies will do anything different here, because it’s Canada or Nova Scotia, they don’t care for people or the environment. They care about the bottom line, which is their dollars.”
Although the province demands that prospectors and businesses get permission from landowners before doing anything on private property, Rhynold contended she was not adequately consulted by the prospectors, and their intentions were not made clear to her.
Any attempt she says she’s made to get in touch with representatives for Northern Shield and Seabourne has fallen flat, and no attempt has been made to answer her questions.
“Only through reading on the internet, and looking for more information, did I discover that Piedmont Valley, from here to the Trans Canada (highway) is leased,” Rhynold said. “If the government gets their mandate, that turns it into an open pit mine. That’s a large tract of land.”
So far, Rhynold has been raising awareness of what is going on, and the potential problems associated with it.
“Unfortunately, ‘not in my backyard’ is usually what gets people going. The fact is when it happens down the road from you, you should still be just as mad.”
“I’ve just started contacting people who are close to me here, phone conversations with my closest neighbour. We are set apart, even from other residents of Piedmont Valley,” Rhynold said. “I don’t know a lot of people out here personally, and haven’t been in contact with them, except for an email to tell them about what’s going on.”
Although she admits she can’t speak on behalf of all residents in the area, Rhynold said she’d rather not see a mine open.
“I think the general consensus is that in Nova Scotia, we value the woodlands, watersheds, rivers and habitats that protect the diversity of the province and the lifestyle that Nova Scotians have come to live by.”
Rhynold noted she opened up the privacy of her Facebook page to raise awareness.
“I’ve opened up those posts to other people in the hope that people looking for similar information on a similar situation, maybe not in Piedmont Valley, can access it. There are multiple valleys throughout the province, but no concerted effort to educate the public on developments across the province.
“It shouldn’t be put upon individual citizens to defend their own lives against this sort of development.”
Background on the Shot Rock property
The area that Northern Shield Resources has been accessing is referred to as the Shot Rock Property.
According to information from Northern Shield, the site features veins of gold-bearing quartz.
Seabourne Resources, a subsidiary of Northern Shield Resources, is in the process of prospecting in the area.
The Shot Rock prospecting is one of three projects Seabourne Resources is pursuing in Nova Scotia.
The Shot Rock property straddles a line between Pictou and Antigonish County that is subject to change, depending on the outcome of prospecting in the area.
“They property changes all the time. Sometimes we do work on one portion and drop it, and then look in another place,” explained Ian Bliss, CEO and president of Northern Shield Resources. “Originally, 90 per cent was in Pictou County, and most of it still is in Pictou County, more or less centred in the Barney’s River area.”
The possibility of any mining taking place is distant, Bliss noted, so nobody will be seeing any mining companies in the area anytime soon.
“Nobody is lining up to talk to you until you find something,” Bliss said. “Sometimes people make the connection and come to talk to you, but it’s far too early to broach that. We don’t have a rolodex of companies we’re saying ‘hey, come and look at this’ to.”