Cultivated land protected in NB Mining Act
FREDERICTON, NBBY BARBARA SCOTT Farm Focus
Sharp increases in the price of some minerals, especially uranium, led to a rush of claims staking in New Brunswick in 2007. Approximately 17,000 new claims were filled with the NB Department of Natural Resources (DNR), making a total of 37,000 claims, compared to 20,000 in 2006, considered to be an average year for prospecting. And this led to flurry of questions from anxious landowners. NB Mining Recorder Ron Shaw readily admits the department could not keep up. “We could not answer landowners fast enough.”
On July 4, mineral claims staking in the province was temporarily suspended while DNR develops a new method to replace the current ground-staking practice. The department expects it will take more than a year to create the new electronic online map-based system announced by Minister Donald Arsenault. It hopes to be operational by November 2009. In the meantime, staff anticipates an interim process will be up and running this November.
At that time the exclusive right to explore for Crown owned minerals will resume by whatever method has been devised. This will not be ground-staking or the on-line map-based system but will probably involve entering into an agreement with the minister.
How can you know if a claim has been staked on your land? What are your rights have when it comes to mineral exploration on your farm? In New Brunswick, cultivated lands are considered special lands. Prospectors can cross your farm in the search for minerals but they must take care not to damage your fields or orchards as they stake or explore potential claims. Since 1986, cultivated fields, orchards, managed sugar bushes, Christmas tree plantations and gardens are considered special lands under NB’s mining regulations but a farm’s woodlot is not. Prospectors must not do any work that damages or interferes with the landowner’s use or enjoyment of special lands without the permission of the landowner, Ron Shaw explained. This means the prospector must reach an agreement with the landowner before going ahead with trenching, cutting trees, building roads, drilling, digging a shaft or other work that could cause damage. But on other lands, like a farm’s woodlot, the prospector must try to contact the owner and reach an agreement on compensation for potential damages. This could entail stumpage for damaged trees or a reclamation plan.
If the prospector cannot reach an agreement with the landowner within 60 days of contacting them, they can proceed with the work after making a damage deposit with the Mining Recorder. Regardless of the time elapsed the prospector cannot go ahead with work that would damage cultivated land unless the owner agrees. As well, mineral exploration and extraction is prohibited within 300 meters of a house and buildings.
However, work that is non-damaging in nature does not require landowner permission. This could include geophysical and geochemical survey work such as using Geiger counters or taking soil samples. Under current regulations, prospectors have 21 days to apply to record a claim. Until now, an actual stake with a silver tag would alert property owners that a prospector or mining company was claiming mineral rights on that parcel of land. (Mineral rights are separate from surface rights that include soil and timber. In most provinces, the Crown holds the rights to minerals that include the right to prospect, explore and mine on a given piece of land.)
In the future, property owners will have to check maps. You can already do so by going to the mining and petroleum section of DNR’s website and selecting mineral claims map information. Shaw said the maps are regularly updated the first of each week. Claims holders must submit reports to the province annually but the contents are keep confidential for two years, then the information is available to the public.
A property owner can stake his own land if it is not already claimed but in doing so, they must follow the same requirements of any prospector: obtain a prospector’s license and claims tags. A claim covers a square (400 meters to the side) of 16 hectares or 40 acres. Shaw pointed out it might take several claims to completely stake a farm and it might involve staking onto neighbouring properties. A claim must be renewed annually. A property owner is required to submit yearly reports to the province and, like other prospectors, carry out work to prove the claim. There are annual costs (renewing licenses and claims) and the work requirements gradually increase. Over 10 years, the claims holder could pay $2500. Annual reports must meet DNR’s standard requirements. The Mining Commissioner resolves unresolved disputes between prospectors and landowners. While staking your own property will prevent anyone else claiming the mineral rights to your farm, it does not prevent underground mines extending underneath the fields. If a farmer is worried about the potential environmental impacts from a mine in the area, he can make them known during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, carried out by the Department of Environment. However, EIAs are not required for all mining activities. For instance, gravel pits and quarries do not require a full EIA. Information on the Mining Act, landowners rights, and mining activity is available on DNR’s website.
Shaw emphasized that the Mining Act is the document that must be consulted in regard to any legal matters. That Mining Act is presently being reviewed.