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Reports > Lessons Learned Table of Contents > Executive Summary

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Advisory Committee was established by Mines Ministers in September 2001 to move forward in addressing the problems associated with abandoned and orphaned mines in Canada. A subgroup of this committee, addressing the issues of community involvement, has the following objective:

To develop a plan to foster community involvement in decision-making about closure and reclamation standards, and to ensure that targeted end-use and reclamation standards are acceptable to local communities.

The Task Force commissioned a preliminary study to characterize key issues and identify potential case studies, and subsequently, a second report that would evaluate lessons learned on community involvement Deloro Mine (Ontario); Giant Mine (Northwest Territories); Mount Washington (British Columbia), and a fourth study that is in progress. As well, community involvement processes at contaminated sites in the us were investigated.

A fourth study has informed the discussion, but the multi-stakeholder committee National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Advisory Committee has not reached consensus on releasing it at this time.

METHODS:

Community contacts for each site were chosen to reflect a diversity of community perspectives. Interviews were conducted with a representative selection of the community and governments. Questions focused on the following categories: Site Background; Community Involvement Process; Community Involvement in Site Remediation and Related Work; and Long-Term Outlook. A shorter survey was used with additional community members to gain a sense of the general public’s perception of the remediation process. Summary and analysis of the interviews and surveys were without attribution in order to maintain confidentiality of those interviewed. The research on us experiences with community involvement included a review of the us Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Superfund Community Involvement Program and public participation initiatives at other contaminated sites in the country. A literature review of relevant web sites, reports, documents, media, and academic papers was completed for both the case studies and the us research.

Lessons learned were evaluated based on key factors that contribute to effective communication and decision-making, such as trust and respect, accountability, transparency, technical resources, training, capacity building, facilitation, and equity.

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CASE STUDIES

Deloro, Ontario: A succession of mining, smelting, chemical and pesticide production, over a period of 100 years, has left the area around Deloro (and downstream) contaminated with metals, radioactive materials, PCBs, bulk fuel and chemicals. The Care Delivery Network Project asserts that cancer rates and birth abnormalities in the area are high in Hastings County. In 1979, the site was abandoned following a clean-up order from Ontario Ministry of Energy and Environment (MOEE), leaving MOEE as the manager of the site.

There have been four court cases related to the site. In one, a community member was compensated for the death of her husband (lung cancer); in the second, a Class action suit was initiated for $55 million in damages against MOEE, MNDM, Ministry of Health, Attorney General of Canada, Canada Eldor Inc., Atomic Energy Control Board, BOC Canada Ltd. (ongoing); and in the third, a charge was made against the Ontario government for allowing damage to fish habitat. This case ended in 2001, and MOEE was found to have demonstrated due diligence during the timeframe of the charges. Following this decision, the fourth case, which charged the Ontario government for "unlawfully discharging/permitting the discharge of a contaminant (radon) into the natural environment" was withdrawn since the problem pre-dated MOEE involvement.

Public pressure has been exerted to have the site cleaned up; to receive compensation for damages to health and property value; and to have a more transparent process for community involvement in decisions made about remediation of Deloro. In 1997, a Public Liaison Committee was established by MOEE (in conjunction with two government technical committees), with MOEE staff serving as the committee chair. This structure has been perceived as a conflict-of-interest, as MOEE is also responsible for the site remediation. Health studies and environmental monitoring studies have been met with controversy, as well.

Giant Mine, Northwest Territories: The Giant Mine in Yellowknife, NWT, began producing gold in 1948, and with it, arsenic trioxide dust. Since the 1950s, tonnes of the dust have been stored in underground chambers on the mine site, adjacent to Great Slave Lake. Yellowknife and the surrounding area have elevated levels of arsenic that some claim is from the years of gold roasting, which sent arsenic and sulphur dioxide up the stack and over the surrounding land.

When Royal Oak Mines was declared insolvent in 1999, the Royal Oak Project Team (and subsequently the Giant Mine Project Team) was established to manage the properties abandoned by Royal Oak. The Team has been looking at remediation possibilities for the arsenic and the mine site, and is now in the process of consulting the public on the options. Some members of the public, however, perceive that it was included rather late in the process, and this has led to some mistrust between the community and the government.

Mount Washington, British Columbia: Mount Washington Mine was a small, open-pit copper mine that operated for less than three years in the mid-1960s. While its operations were brief, the mine left a serious acid mine drainage problem behind. Elevated copper levels have contributed to the destruction of the fishery in the Tsolum River – a loss that has been estimated at $2 million per year.

The Tsolum River Task Force was formed with the overall goal to “restore the Tsolum River watershed to historic levels of health and productivity.” The Task Force model was extremely effective in bringing together all stakeholders to discuss issues in and solutions for problems in the Tsolum River watershed. The Task Force included members from different levels of government (provincial and federal), community environmental organizations, and the mining, fishing and forestry industries.

Before the Task Force’s funding ran out, it was highly effective in restoring fish habitat, monitoring water flows, and mapping the watershed. It was less successful in getting remediation work done at the mine site, and as such, copper levels remain elevated in the river.

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LESSONS LEARNED FROM CANADIAN AND us EXAMPLES

This study revealed a number of lessons, common to the Canadian and us case studies, related to community involvement in the remediation of contaminated sites. The following is a selection of the key lessons:

Benefits of Community Involvement

  • Community involvement leads to better decisions when it comes to the remediation of contaminated sites. In some cases, community involvement also leads to lower remediation costs.

Barriers to Community Involvement

  • People living near contaminated sites may be hesitant to trust a government that failed to prevent environmental contamination. As a result, lack of community trust in government often becomes a major barrier to participation in a government-led process.
  • Communities want to have “meaningful” input into decisions related to the remediation of contaminated sites. They may not participate in a process if there is no opportunity for two-way dialogue or no possibility to influence the decisions.
  • There may be social, economic, political, economic, historical, cultural, and health-related barriers that affect the willingness or ability of a community member to participate in a process related to mine-site remediation.
  • Disillusionment with processes that do not adequately reflect community composition, or that fail to resolve conflicts in a respectable manner, may also diminish participation and prevent community members from becoming involved.

Overcoming Barriers to Community Involvement

  • Building trust between community members, government and others will likely be necessary if community involvement processes are going to be successful. Trust may be built when community members see that some of their priorities and concerns will be addressed within a process.
  • Communities are not homogeneous entities. As a result, it is likely that a number of communication tools and strategies will have to be used to disseminate and gather information, and educate community members. Extra effort should be made to ensure that the information is distributed beyond “those most willing to hear it” and that input is received from more community members than “those who are easiest to hear from.”
  • Some of the information related to the remediation of contaminated sites is extremely technical. Consequently, efforts should be made to convey this information in an easy-to-understand format. Otherwise, large segments of the community will not have the knowledge to understand the issues and will be unable to fully participate in discussions related to remediation.
  • In many of the case studies examined for this report, a lack of capacity to decipher and utilize technical reports and data was seen as a barrier to meaningful participation in discussions concerning the remediation of contaminated sites. Funding should be made available to help community groups hire technical advisors to help them better understand the scientific data. This will enable the community members to make more-informed decisions related to remediation options.
  • Capacity-building efforts that increase community participation in remediation work can both empower the community members and better enable them to understand the challenges faced in the remediation of contaminated sites.
  • Health and social capacity building efforts may be necessary as a parallel track to the technical capacity building. Wellness centres, literacy programs, programs with youth, health support initiatives, re-training programs, etc., can help to improve the ability of community members to participate fully in decisions that affect them.

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Lessons Related to Formal Community Involvement Processes

  • The nature of a community’s involvement in a process should be made explicitly clear to participants up front. This is necessary to reveal differences in expectations of the level of influence that the community members will have on the remediation decisions. Failure to do so may result in community frustration and increased distrust in the process if, and when, their expectations are not met.
  • Community involvement mechanisms should include broad representation of the community and a diversity of views.
  • Early involvement in planning and decision-making can help to take citizens out of a reactive position, and may offer them a more meaningful opportunity for engagement in discussions of options, tradeoffs, and consequences.
  • Actions to prevent high rates of participant turnover should be implemented. These actions could include: a process for dealing with conflict; financial support for community members’ expenses; babysitting services; technical assistance to community members; paid staff to do the administrative work that volunteers cannot accomplish; and defined end-points for committees.
  • Agency accountability within a public participation process is essential. The credibility of the process may be undermined when agencies do not respond (or fail to respond in a timely manner) to the public’s input, suggestions, or recommendations.
  • A lack of fairness in the process (e.g., unequal time allowed for different viewpoints to be heard) can diminish the credibility of the process.
  • It is important that conflicts are resolved in a timely manner that is both respectful and fair. Effective facilitation of meetings can be critical to working through the conflicts that will likely arise when a diversity of individuals come together in one processes.
 
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Last updated: 2003-09-26

© National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Initiative (NOAMI) 2004