New Gold's New Afton mine announced the development of plans to mitigate 'social impact' of mine's eventual closure

Mine plans for the future

New Gold’s New Afton mine announced Monday it has started an innovative project to reduce the social impact of the mine’s eventual closure for its nearly 600 employees — and the surrounding community.

Scott Davidson, New Afton’s environment, lands and permitting manager, told Castanet Kamloops this type of planning isn’t as common as it should be.

While there are strict environmental standards that come into play when a mine closes, Davidson said they found there were few industry standards pertaining to social impacts.

“We saw this as really doing the right thing,” Davidson said.

“We weren’t worried about whether there was precedent out there or not, it was more just this was the right thing to do so we could really look at leaving behind a positive legacy.”

As the minerals in the ground are a finite resource, operations at the gold and copper mine are expected to wind down in 2030.

Davidson said the initiative, called Beyond New Afton, started when their sister mine in Mexico began to close down.

“They decided that they really wanted to look at implementing some form of a social closure plan that really focused on their employees, on their contractors, and worked with the communities in order to be able to lessen the impacts of closing a mine site,” he said.

“We reached out and had a lot of dialogue with them, and thought that it was a really interesting project.”

Korah De Walt-Gagnon, First Nations coordinator for New Afton, said each mine is unique, which is why they want to ensure their closure plan is informed by community interest groups from employees and their families, to contractors, suppliers and local First Nations.

According to De Walt-Gagnon, the average age of their employees is around 40, and 21 per cent of their workforce are Indigenous.

“For myself, I'm a band member from Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, I'm born and raised in Kamloops. This project means a lot to me, but also to our employees, because 80 per cent of our employees are recruited from the local area,” she said.

De Walt-Gagnon said they have already received survey feedback from 200 employees, and the response to the project has been positive.

“We're getting to that process of understanding what do they believe are the impacts? And what are their creative solutions so that we can formulate those responses to help build the plan for the future?”

She said some ideas they have started implementing include looking at long-term, sustainable ways to donate to the community that will outlive the life of the mine.

They are also working with their employees to ensure they develop additional skills and gain experience that will help them in the future.

De Walt-Gagnon said they will be working on hearing from community groups and employees through 2021 and 2022.

The Beyond New Afton plan will be developed in 2023.

“We want to pair it along with our biophysical closure plan, where it's something that gets reviewed every few years and updated in order to ensure that things are current and up to date,” De Walt-Gagnon said.

The Kamloops community is invited to take a survey to help shape the Beyond New Afton plan.

“We really want to hear from the community and what their ideas are for this project,” De Walt-Gagnon said.

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