Pictured is the Moose River Gold Mine. Photo by the Ecology Action Centre

HALIFAX: A report from the Auditor General is calling for the provincial government to improve the identification and management of contaminated sites, including dozens in the Strait area.

Acting Auditor General of Nova Scotia, Terry Spicer, released his July 28 report to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. The report examined the province’s processes to identify and manage the contaminated sites it is responsible for and follow up on the recommendations from the June 2010 Management of Contaminated Sites audit at the Department of Environment.

The Auditor General explained that this report was undertaken because contaminated sites can have a significant impact on human health and the environment.

As well the Auditor General recorded a $372.1 million liability for contaminated sites and identified a “significant deficiency” during a 2019 financial audit.

The overall conclusions were that the province does not have a coordinated approach to access and manage risks for the contaminated sites to which it is responsible. The report asserts that no department or entity is responsible to develop a provincial approach to take appropriate action and there is no government-wide process to prioritize work on contaminated sites.

While the province does have a process to ensure it identifies the sites, the report claims there are weaknesses in monitoring.

For example, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) has no formal process to periodically monitor highway bases for potential contamination and the DTIR also has issues with records of historic work on highway bases. The Department of Lands and Forestry only recently started site evaluations on historic mine sites.

And finally, the environment department did not implement all recommendations from the audit conducted a decade ago.

From the report were four recommendations, the first is that the Executive Council Office should assign responsibility to an oversight body to implement a consistent, coordinated approach for assessing and managing known and potentially contaminated sites for which the province is responsible.

The second is that the province creates a complete inventory of known and potentially contaminated sites, including a process to monitor relevant information for decision-making.

The third recommendation is for the province to implement a risk-based approach to assess and prioritize all known and potentially contaminated sites.

The final recommendation is that the Department of Environment ensure that management provides appropriate oversight of the inspectors.

Progressive Conservative environment critic Brad Johns said the report shows that the McNeil government has been sloppy.

“A failure to properly manage these sites could lead to costly problems, both environmentally and financially down the line, and it’s all perfectly avoidable with a few guidelines and best practices,” Johns added.