Engaging our Stakeholders: Use of Indigenous Knowledge, Community Consultation and Evaluation of Mine Closure Options at the Red Dog Mine, Alaska
At the Teck Cominco Red Dog mine, located in the NANA region of Northwestern Alaska, and operated under an agreement with NANA Regional Corporation Inc. (NANA), an Alaskan native corporation, we’ve conducted a series of community engagement activities aimed at utilizing indigenous knowledge and local interests to provide guidance to support the mine’s Reclamation and Closure Plan. Although closure is not planned until 2031, state law requires that Red Dog prepare a Closure Plan and provide financial assurance. The Closure Plan must be updated every five years. Community consultation helps to ensure that the final Plan accommodates subsistence use and the health and socioeconomic needs of the 7,300 Inupiat people in the region.
In April and June of 2006, two independent workshops were convened with over 100 participants, including NANA region members, government, NGOs, mine staff and consultants. Attendees reviewed information related to ecological risks and technical options for the selection of the preferred closure methods for mine facilities, specifically, the tailings pond, the open pits, and the waste rock facilities. “Our ability to make informed decisions today will impact not only our future but the future of generations to come,“ observed Roland Ashby, NANA elder and June workshop participant. “We are evaluating mine closure solutions which will be in place for the next 100 years or more, and preferred solutions will protect our Arctic wildlife such as caribou, fox and ptarmigan and the quality of our water. Everyone is at the table with eyes and ears open to the options.”
Scientists worked for more than three years prior to the workshops to assess current and post-closure impacts of lead, cadmium and zinc on wildlife species. Moreover, engineers reviewed over 100 closure methods in order to identify the top four to five methods for each of the tailings and mine area facilities. Workshop participants considered research findings and systematically reviewed the top closure methods in light of environmental, socioeconomic and physical criteria.
“The true value of a workshop like this is that the combined experience of both scientific and indigenous knowledge creates new insights for the selection of the best closure solutions,” noted Gary Coulter, project manager and Manager, EHS Management Systems, Teck Cominco. “The inclusion of local and traditional knowledge is key to the development of a successful closure plan. For example, subsistence hunters observed that migrating caribou will cause deep ruts to form on any soil covers that we place over the waste rock facilities. Our team will now design a cover system that will be capable of withstanding the wear and tear of migrating caribou.”
Indigenous knowledge is also being applied to validate scientific knowledge. Historically, Red Dog is located in a continuous permafrost environment. The NANA people have observed that temperatures are steadily increasing. Measurement of ground and surface temperatures at the site between 1995 and 2000 indicate that mean annual surface temperatures have warmed by approximately 1.2ºC compared to historic averages. Consequently, the scientific team has proposed closure methods that do not rely on freezing conditions.
Based on community feedback, closure options for the mine area and tailings area were recommended for selection and approval to NANA and Teck Cominco senior staff, the NANA Lands and Natural Resources Committee and the NANA Board. In late 2006, the NANA Board formally approved the recommended closure options. The Closure Plan will be submitted to the State of Alaska for approval in 2007 and will be subject to another round of public review and comment.