RECLAMATION IS MORE THAN THROWING SEEDS ON THE GROUND
Environmental article by Harold Hough
Nothing defines a mine to the public as much as its reclamation program. A good reclamation program will gain public support for the mine and help future permitting while a poor reclamation program will be bedevil a company for decades.
Unfortunately, there is no easy formula for a successful reclamation program. Rather, mining companies have to carefully tailor a plan for every mine based in several factors. Here are some of the factors that companies have to consider before setting their plans in stone.
KNOW THE COMMUNITY. One of the biggest mistakes a mining company can make is to develop a reclamation plan that doesn’t recognize the needs and desires of the specific community. The company must ask, “Who lives there and what are their values?” For instance, a rural community that is interested in the economic benefits of the mine will have every different ideas of what a reclamation project should look like than a community that has a larger proportion of summer homes for affluent residents. While the city residents may want a wildlife refuge, the rural population may be quite upset that thousand of acres of hunting and recreation land are now off limits.
Peabody Coal’s Black Mesa operation on tribal lands in northern Arizona was an example of creating a reclamation program that met the needs of the local community. Much of the reclamation program focused on making sure that plants critical to traditional Native American life were planted. The result was an award winning reclamation program that met the needs of the community.
KNOW THE REGULATORS AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. Every state mining office is different and getting to know the people who work there is critical to putting together a successful reclamation program. They usually know what will work in that state and what will get environmental radicals upset.
State regulators are usually just as eager to produce a good reclamation project as any mining company because success will boost their visibility. The best route is to meet with them as early as possible and let them know that you are committed to reclaiming the mine in the best way possible. Ask them to make recommendations and look at previous reclamation projects that they have worked on.
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. Good reclamation is more than planting shrubbery and turning the pit into a lake. It should inspire the imagination and excite the people. Reclamation programs that win awards usually have some aspect that leaves the area better off than when the mine began. In some cases, mining companies commit themselves to repairing the damage from mining operations over 100 years ago. Other programs focus upon studying and improving some endangered part of the ecosystem. Some focus on archeology and heritage studies. In every case, they provide some special benefit that will last long after the mine is gone.
HONESTY AND DISCLOSURE. Nothing can damage a mine’s credibility faster than stonewalling or not telling the truth. Mines must be straight forward in disclosing the whole story about the mine and the reclamation program. If heap leaching will be done, the people who present the reclamation program to the community must be honest about the fact that cyanide will be used and address the dangers and how the mine will remediate the hazard. Any hesitation or failure to be totally honest will be used by the environmentalists to hamstring the permitting process.
The community will back a mine if the mine officials can convince them that the reclamation program is not a bandage, but a serious effort to eliminate any damage and make the area better than before.
ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES OF RECLAMATION TO THE COMMUNITY. After the mine closes, what will the community do? In many rural parts of the country, communities want some economic infrastructure that can help offset the loss of jobs when the mine closes. A park and lake may be nice, but it won’t pay the bills.
Some mines look at developing some economic infrastructure when they leave. For example, a mine can leave their office and maintenance buildings standing and turn them into an industrial park. This encourages business to set up in the area and gives the local economy a long term boost.
It’s important to realize that today reclamation is more than closing the mine and throwing some seed on the ground. The mining industry is learning that the key to acquiring the permits for future mining operations and gaining a reputation as a good corporate citizen is to take a more aggressive approach to reclamation. The time and cost will be more, but the payoff will be greater in the long run