HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government says it registered a final surplus of $120 million in fiscal 2018-19, despite increased funding for remediation projects including two abandoned gold mines.
The province released its final books for the fiscal year Thursday, revealing it will spend $47.9 million to clean up the former Montague Gold Mines near Dartmouth and Goldenville in Guysborough County.
Finance Minister Karen Casey said the province is also looking at higher future costs for other sites, but she added the cleanups need to be done.
"This is something that has been long overdue," Casey said.
In all, the province is looking at a list of 69 sites on Crown land to determine which ones need to be reclaimed.
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said the two sites initially decided on are large and heavily contaminated and are close to communities. He said with a cost estimate in hand, the department is able to move ahead, although work will have to wait until tenders are issued.
Sites to be examined next include the Caribou Mines near Upper Musquodoboit, and Oldham gold mines near the Halifax airport. Two former coal mines will also be examined — Halfway Road and Ocean Street, located on old Sydney Steel Company land in Sydney Mines, N.S.
"A lot of them (sites) are up to 50 years old or longer, and back then there weren't really regulations in place, so there are varying levels of contaminants, and some of them may not need remediation," said Rankin.
He said many of the sites would have to be cleaned up of contaminants like mercury and arsenic.
"We have a duty to the public to address the environment," he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston welcomed the initiative, saying the province hasn't done well enough in the past.
"There are lots of situations in this province that we need to address, Houston said. "We can't be aware of situations that pose a risk to our communities and our water sources and turn a blind eye."
Meanwhile, Casey said the surplus, which is $90 million higher than the original budget estimate, grew because a large sum was left over from what was budgeted for long-service awards to retiring civil servants. The Liberal government announced its intention to phase out the retirement allowance in 2015 and paid out $377.8 million in 2018-19.
"We set aside an amount. It came in much less than that ... $72 million of that went to that surplus," Casey said.
Overall expenses were up $11.3 million to $11.75 billion, mainly due to increased demand in the health care sector.
At the end of the fiscal year, the province's net debt was $15.01 billion.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press