The New Brunswick government has given a conditional approval to a J.D. Irving-owned gypsum mine near the Hammond River in Upham leaving rural residents upset by the government’s lack of attention to how the mine could affect their well water and roads.
The approval comes with 29 conditions that Hammond River Holdings Ltd. must follow to operate but Upham resident Sarah Blenis says well water protection is not on the list of conditions and that leaves her and her neighbours “extremely disappointed.”
“No water management plan or groundwater survey has been presented, yet Environment Minister Jeff Carr has signed the approval. The 29 Conditions presented in the Certificate of Approval are not acceptable to the community, particularly Condition 15, which puts the onus of proof on the community, should there be any negative impacts on well quality or quantity,” says Blenis.
Blenis is behind the public Facebook page, Protect Upham Mountain, and has been running a citizen water monitoring program. Her efforts to protect Upham’s water were recently recognized with an award for community leadership from the Conservation Council of New Brunswick at its 50th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 12.
Hammond River Holdings Ltd. wants to extract 2.5 million tons of gypsum, an ingredient found in drywall, from an open-pit mine on Route 111 in Upham, a rural community near Saint John. The gypsum would be blasted and crushed on site then shipped for processing to Atlantic Wallboard, also owned by J.D. Irving, in Saint John.
Cheryl Johnson, a teacher and member of Friends of Hammond River, told the NB Media Co-op in May that the project will disrupt her life on the land: “I love life in the backwoods. We have a large garden where we grow much of our produce. We hunt and fish from the land.”
Johnson is particularly concerned about the impact of the project on roads she says are already dangerous.
According to mining expert Joan Kuyek, “The threat posed by the Upham Mine to the Hammond River, and to people traveling on public roads from 35 or more huge trucks daily on public roads, is much too high a price to pay for another Irving enterprise that will only bring a few jobs for ten years.”
Kuyek, a co-founder of MiningWatch Canada, is in New Brunswick this week launching her latest book, Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Communities from the Mining Industry. Tonight, she will be launching her book in Fredericton in an event organized by the NB Media Co-op’s research partner, RAVEN, and other local sponsors.
Besides traffic management and noise, other conditions listed in the approval document concern wetland and watercourse management.
The proposed mine site is located near the Hammond River and at one point is only 100 metres away from its edge. The Hammond River is home to Atlantic salmon, brook trout, smallmouth bass, rainbow smelt, striped bass and shortnose sturgeon. The Hammond River Angling Association has expressed concerns about the impact of the mine’s runoff into streams that flow into the river.
Blenis told the NB Media Co-op in June that her concerns go beyond the mine proposed in her backyard. She wants to see amendments made to the provincial Mining Act so that quarries extracting any mineral are subjected to an environmental impact assessment. She also wants to see elements of the Quarry Siting Standards that protect residents on well water applied to the projects deemed to be mines.
According to Lawrence Wuest, who is a prominent critic of the Sisson mine project near Fredericton, the controversy over the Upham gypsum mine proposal is just another “example of an entrenched history of industrial capture of New Brunswick’s provincial regulators, ostensibly mandated to protect the province’s people and environment.”
Earlier this year, Blenis and her neighbours were dismayed to learn that their opposition to the mine had made them targets of RCMP surveillance. Yesterday, Oct. 23, at Kuyek’s book launch at Mount Allison University in Sackville, two RCMP officers introduced themselves to Kuyek after the launch, leaving organizers questioning why the RCMP felt they needed to be present.
Hammond Rivers Holdings Ltd. is now required to submit operating and monitoring plans before receiving final approval. No planned start date has been announced but Blenis is clear where she and her neighbours stand on the project.
“We do not approve of this project. We do not approve of these conditions and we do not approve of a Minister who is willing to sign a document without all the information being on the table,” says Blenis.
Tracy Glynn is a doctoral researcher with RAVEN and has worked with communities affected by mining for two decades.