We start planning for a mine’s closure when the mine is still at the design stage. Each of our mines has obtained regulatory approval for its closure rehabilitation plans, which are revised and updated regularly throughout the mine’s life to ensure physical and chemical stability of the waste material and structures that will be left behind. The closure planning includes restoring the land to a level of productivity equivalent to its pre-mining capacity, wherever possible, or to an alternative land use determined through consultation with regulators and local stakeholders. New Gold operations practise progressive rehabilitation of historic mining areas and lands affected by its activity as soon as areas become available.
We also understand the importance of integrating human resources and social-economic aspects of mine closure. We have been working on Cerro San Pedro’s Integrated Closure Program for over five years. Based on best practices and our learnings with Cerro San Pedro’s closure program, we completed the New Gold Integrated Closure Standard in 2015. This standard is currently been implemented across the company and aims to provide guidance to sites regarding closure planning such as time frames in connection with operational decisions related to the different phases of mining. This takes into consideration adequate financial, physical and human resources to ensure local communities’ interests are understood and considered during closure planning.
Reclamation and Remediation
At our New Afton mine, the newest of all of our operations, we are already working towards developing indicators of successful remediation. New Afton has collaborated with the University of Guelph and its Barcode of Life project to use innovative technology in the area of genomics to measure differences in arthropod (insects, spiders, etc.) numbers and diversity between a disturbed and undisturbed site. By measuring these parameters, the site can optimize the composition or density of the vegetation structure to ensure the ecosystem left after final reclamation is a functional one.
New Afton has applied this innovative technology to one round of sampling and seeks to do further sampling programs in the future to gauge the effect that time has on re-establishment of ecosystems in reclaimed areas. This data can then be provided to regulators, partners and communities of interest to provide successful results of reclamation efforts.
From the very beginning, Cerro San Pedro set a goal to reforest a total of 373.4 hectares of land in areas surrounding its operation. At the start of the closure process, we have exceeded the goal by reforesting 393.3 hectares with the assistance of volunteers from the local communities. Moreover, we have produced over 70% more plants than what we’d set as our initial goal.
Our Peak Mines has also put a considerable effort into rehabilitation sites. At two sites in particular – Gladstone and Silver Peak – we have used small-scale absorption banks to make the most of Cobar’s limited rainfall. Both sites are located on natural hill slopes and were subject to accelerated levels of surface erosion. The technique of absorption banks involves forming banks along the contour approximately 10 metres in length. The end of each bank is made slightly higher, enabling water to pond against the high side of the bank and encouraging growth. The addition of litter and branches assists in minimizing soil erosion from rainfall run-on and provides coverage for the establishment of new growth. Seeding the site with native grasses has proven rewarding, as new growth has successfully been established.
In 2016, we ceased mining operations at Cerro San Pedro. We aim to ensure that our legacy is a positive one concerning the environment and the sustainability of the communities surrounding our site. In 2016, we continued the implementation of a detailed plan for workforce reductions and redeployment. To ensure the effect on our people was minimized during this difficult transition, we have maintained initiatives such as training programs and workshops developed by local public and private institutions. Our objective is to maximize the creation of opportunities for our employees and local residents in order to minimize any negative impacts as we transition to a post-closure phase.
The Community Entrepreneurial Development Program in partnership with Sustainable Economic Futures (SEF) Canada has been in place for the last two years. The Enterprise Development (ED) program aims to assist in the development and support of small business activities within the communities. This grassroots program relies on a facilitator and a group of volunteers from within the communities surrounding the mine site and is currently funded by New Gold. Almost 150 local people have joined as volunteers or clients. To date, this project has been responsible for the creation or expansion of five small businesses and 17 local jobs.
For our employees and contractors, our outplacement plan has offered a set of preparation courses to assist in expanding aptitudes for job searching, interviews and leadership, as well as exploring different employment sources for opportunities. Other training provided in the local communities in partnership with local training institutions and government agencies have been: budgeting and financial planning, computer skills, automotive mechanics, and electrical and plumbing certification. Community members and employees have also developed new skills and knowledge as they learn about environmental conservation, conflict resolution through mediation, and human rights training.