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Cape Breton residents oppose potential sale of 400 hectares of public land to copper miner

Coxheath is a residential and rural area on the outskirts of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Nova Copper, a local mining exploration company, wants to buy 400 hectares of public land to search for copper.  (Brittany Wentzell, CBC News - image credit)
Coxheath is a residential and rural area on the outskirts of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Nova Copper, a local mining exploration company, wants to buy 400 hectares of public land to search for copper. (Brittany Wentzell, CBC News - image credit)

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality decided Tuesday to postpone a vote on the potential sale of 400 hectares of land in the Coxheath Hills southwest of Sydney, N.S.

The controversial vote was supposed to take place at a regular council meeting Tuesday evening, but is no longer on the agenda. A local group, the Keep Coxheath Clean Association, has collected more than 500 signatures on a petition against any development on the land.

The CBRM vote would have brought the sale of the land to mining company Nova Copper one step closer.

Rubin Binder, president of Keep Coxheath Clean, says association members don't want to see mining exploration in the area.

"They're opposed to the sale of land from CBRM. They're opposed to permitting a mine. They're opposed to the lack of transparency when it comes to transferring land that belongs to the public to a private company," said Binder.

Copper is a critical mineral, needed for batteries, electric motors and renewable energy.  According to the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, the first exploration for copper in the Coxheath Hills began in 1878.

Rubin Binder is the President of the Keep Coxheath Clean Association. He says residents are concerned about the potential footprint the development might leave behind.
Rubin Binder is the President of the Keep Coxheath Clean Association. He says residents are concerned about the potential footprint the development might leave behind.

Rubin Binder is the President of the Keep Coxheath Clean Association. He says residents are concerned about the potential footprint the development might leave behind. (Kathleen McKenna, CBC News)

Harry Cabrita, the president and CEO of Nova Copper, says copper is a critical metal for the transition to renewable energy.

"We import from other countries and expect other countries to supply us with our raw materials in order to have our green initiatives," he said.

Cabrita says the project is still in its exploration phase and workers are collecting mineral samples over a wide area. But that doesn't mean a mine would cover the same area as the exploration site.

"I would be terrified too, you know, if I thought there was going to be a 30-square-kilometre mine above my house," he said.

Exploration phase

"This is years from now, we're still in the development phase … under exploration, we're not allowed to do any mining.

The resident association says the biggest concern is the development's footprint. Over a decade ago the same neighborhood saw a flurry of activism to stop the proposed creation of a local quarry.

Many people who live in Coxheath say a residential area is no place for industrial development.

"We have members on our board that actually fought that fight and they are seeing the same thing happening all over again, the stress brought to the community," said Binder.

Cabrita sees it otherwise. He says it's preferable to explore for minerals in areas that are already developed because that conserves wilderness areas.

"We're in an industrial area that has four environmental permits right now …  and a hydro line, and the hydro line is also key to this development."

Binder says his association is concerned with contaminates like arsenic entering the local water table.

"Our major thing is that we're putting this on top of a watershed. It's on a hill. It's on a watershed that feeds all of our wells."

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