Stanley Divided Over Sisson brook

14 12 2014
DG   DEC 10
Village divided over mining project

Sisson Brook tungsten mine would create jobs, but also evokes fears
JOHN CHILIBECK LEGISLATURE BUREAU

STANLEY • A big mining project that could bring hundreds of jobs to this picturesque village has divided the community just like the pristine river that runs through it.

Stanley, about a 45-minute drive north of Fredericton, is nearby the proposed Sisson Brook tungsten mine. The Liberal provincial government supports the $579-million project to create an open-pit mine that would bring with it up to 300 permanent, full-time jobs.

But some people fear the environmental risks are too great and worry about the future of the Nashwaak River, which winds its way for more than 100 kilometres through the heart of Stanley, Nashwaak Bridge, Taymouth, Durham Bridge and Penniac before draining into the St. John River at Fredericton.

“People who don’t need the work, don’t want it,” said Heidi Flynn, who works at the local pharmacy. “There’s nothing to do in Stanley. There’s no work here. I’m not completely for it or against it because I worry about the environment too. But I’d like to see the work. It would be a big bonus around here.”

Flynn, who grew up in the area, said everyone in the community of about 400 people knows family and friends who have left to work in Western Canada. Many still commute between New Brunswick and Alberta, resting at home for seven days before shipping out for two weeks to toil in the oilsands.

“They’re tired. By the time they get back from Alberta, they’ve lost one of their days off because of all the travel. Nobody wants to leave home.”
Shirley Wilson, who lives in North Tay and whose son attended school in Stanley, is leery of the big mine.
“I’m not against people having more business, better employment and people prospering, but I don’t think we have the whole picture yet and know enough about the long-term consequences,”she said.

“We’ll have jobs created over the short-term and we’ll bring in a lot of people with skills from other places because many people from this community have already left for out west.”

She worries whether Northcliff Resources, the company behind the Sisson Partnership, will do enough to clean up the site once the mine is closed.   It’s impossible to overlook the importance of the river when you approach the village, nestled in a deep valley, with homes, businesses, schools and the village office sharing its banks.

Traditionally, people in Stanley made their living in the woods or on nearby farms, enough to support dozens of stores. But much of that work has dried up, people have moved away and businesses have closed.

The schools, an elementary school attached to a middle school and high school but run by separate administrations, has a combined enrolment of 252 children. A decade ago, 370 children attended classes there. It’s the same sort of steady decline many rural areas have suffered throughout New Brunswick.

Last week, district officials held a meeting in the village to flog the idea of putting the schools under one administration, something that has confused and angered parents who say the community could be on the cusp of a mini-boom and reverse in student enrolment.

The company is waiting for environmental and regulatory approvals from Ottawa and the province, and needs to attract more investment before getting the massive project underway, still many months away.

But there is also deep concern for what could happen to the clear waters of the Nashwaak and its plentiful fish.

Some people in the village declined interview requests, saying they didn’t want to anger their neighbours.

Bernard Gullison, 80, wasn’t shy to give his opinion. The retired lumberjack once moved to Alberta to find work, but he retired to his hometown. When he was a forestry worker, he helped cut the right of way for NB Power that skirts beside the mine site.

“It’s too late in my life to worry about the river,” he said after finishing his breakfast at the local diner. “I salmon fished all my life, and they closed the river to salmon fishing, so I’ve kind of given up on it.”

He said it was more important to create jobs and grow the village again.

“I’d like to see the mine open. It’s been 10 years since they started looking at it,” he said.“It’ll make some work.”

Marilyn Steele, who lives just outside the village, said anything that would bring jobs to Stanley and the surrounding area would be a blessing.

“I feel the same way about shale gas,” she said, a position that’s at odds with people who have posted red Say No to Shale Gas signs on their properties along the highway to Stanley. The new Liberal government is about to impose a moratorium on shale gas development, arguing not enough is known about the potential risks to people’s health and the environment.

But Steele says Stanley needs some kind of economic development.

“Look around. There are no jobs around here. Most people have to travel to Fredericton to work, and we have a decrease in our student population in our schools. I’ve lived here all my life and seen a lot of demographic changes   – the population is getting older.”

Enos Baggs, a prep cook at the diner, has heard plenty of patrons chew over the idea of the mine.

“Some people worry about what it would do and the environmental impact of it,” said Baggs, who’s originally from Newfoundland. He married a woman from Stanley and moved to the village about 20 years ago. “But at the same time, I think people would like to see some of the younger people come back and be able to work in this community again, instead of everyone going out west to work.”

Many people worry whether the tailings from the mine would be properly contained and if they’d ever leach into the surrounding watershed and the Nashwaak, whose headwaters are just upriver. People still fish and canoe in the area, and they are proud of their waterfront homes and cottages, which fetch a higher price on the real estate market.

“I’d hate to see anything happen to the environmental part of it. The jobs won’t mean much if our watershed is gone,”Baggs said.“But it’s like anything, jobs grow the town.”
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