Gold in them thar Gatineau hills?

The city of Gatineau has a gold rush on its hands.

Although it’s doubtful there’s actually gold in Gatineau’s hills, mining companies seem keen to apply for mining permits before legislative changes are made that would restrict mining in urbanized areas.

Frederic Tremblay, an environment consultant working for the city of Gatineau, believes companies are looking for mineral resources like potash or lithium.

Lithium is certainly in high demand as it’s used in rechargeable electric car batteries and mobile phones.

Tremblay said, “We know that they’re not looking for petroleum or gas, as that would require an actual drilling permit.”

Quebec’s National Assembly adopted the principle of Bill 79 in October 2010, but it’s since floundered due to ongoing debate over the nature of the restrictions and prorogation of the provincial legislature.

Some of the proposed amendments to Quebec’s current Mining Act are the exclusion of certain zones from mining activities, and imposing stricter measures regarding the discovery and exploitation of uranium.

Stelmine, a Montreal-based exploration company, recently staked claims on almost 13,000 acres of private land in west Gatineau including Meech Lake.

A recent access-to-information request revealed that an unidentified mining company applied for an exploratory permit within the urbanized heart of Gatineau in November 2010.

The company cannot be named until a permit is issued.

The permit would give the company exclusive rights, over a two-year period, to prospect on 1,200 acres. That land includes private homes, three golf courses, a water treatment plant, riverbeds, farmland, and Gatineau and Moussette parks.

The access-to-information request also revealed that this area includes the residence of the Italian ambassador.

But this was the first that the Italian Embassy had heard about it.

Marisa Colotta, a senior administrator at the embassy, said that their staff was unaware of any pending mining permit.

“We would have no intention of selling,” Colotta said. “The residence is the property of the Italian government.”

“Besides, I don’t understand how they could get permission – it’d ruin the environment,” Colotta said.

Tremblay had to agree.

“Even a prospecting permit, that does not include actual excavation, would still involve some drilling,” he said.

“This could mean damage to aqueducts, water distribution systems, chemical storage tanks, residential properties, wells and septic tanks.”

Mining exploration or excavation could also negatively impact local businesses.

Richard Signoretti, manager of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, admitted he was concerned.

“My hometown is Sudbury, and so I’m used to mining and the blasting of rock,” Signoretti said.

“We wouldn’t be interested in selling our land,” he stressed. “But if the mine was even on neighbouring property, it could still affect our club membership.”

Denise Laferrière, councillor for Gatineau’s Hull district said many concerned citizens had contacted her when the council issued a news release about the issue last November.

But Nicolas Begin, from the Natural Resources department, said city councillors are overreacting.

“If issued, this permit only guarantees an exclusive right to search,” Begin said. “You always have to get the landowner’s authorization before work can start on a claim.”

But Tremblay said there is currently a mining boom in Quebec and that many new mines could be opened under a law that desperately needs updating.

And the city has no authority over issuing mining permits.

That is why the province invited Gatineau’s city council to formalize any limitations they’d want on the potential permit.

“In November, we had a ‘one-time deal’ to voice our objections – these objections and restrictions would apply for all future permits issued for Gatineau,” Tremblay stated.

Among these restrictions, the council stipulated that any mine must be at least 600 metres from the nearest home.

“That would ensure that any mine would be outside of the proposed area,” Tremblay said laughing.