As exploration at the Hammond Reef Gold Project near Atikokan continues, and the environmental assessment process carries on, a team also is working on a socio-economic study to see how the potential mine could affect the district.
Golder Associates, the environmental consultant Osisko has hired, is conducting a socio-economic assessment, the company told those on hand for the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce’s annual general membership meeting last Thursday afternoon at La Place Rendez-Vous.
The team has done quite a few studies to start towards a baseline report.
They were here in October, and so far have talked to the public school board, social services board, and Chamber of Commerce, to find out what the economic and social conditions are now to help Osisko understand how the community might be impacted by increased populations and an increased demand for services.
“If there’s an increase of population of 500 people in the long-term, or 2,000 during construction, is that going to crash all the intersections?” asked Mark Bowler, a senior advisor of sustainable development for Osisko, while explaining the purpose of the socio-economic study.
“Is that going to stress out our doctors so they all walk away? Is that going to make it so it’s three teachers short? This is an important thing,” he stressed.
“Is that going to make it so there’s a fight over ice time and all the little girls get kicked off the ice rinks?”
Bowler said that if there’s going to be conflicts and fights, the company wants to know well in advance what it can do to work with the community and mitigate that.
“The idea is to make it so we minimize all of the negative potential effects on people of the ‘boom’ part of the ‘boom-bust’ cycle, and we build the legacy infrastructure to allow people to most benefit from the ‘bust,’” he explained.
For example, a housing unit built for mine workers could be converted into a nursing home after the mine closes.
“We’re trying to encourage people to use their imagination about what might happen in the future,” said Bowler.
One challenge he sees is finding enough trained workers if the mine goes into production.
“That complement of workers, contractors, that sort of thing, comes at a time when there might be other projects being built in Ontario and the rest of Canada,” he noted.
“Our skilled, capable workers—we’ve run out of the them,” he stressed. “The trades, they’re not supplying the workers, and the challenge will be finding and attracting and keeping those workers.
“Our positioning is to be the employer of choice. Maybe we can attract some of those people back from the oil patch or something like that.”
Bowler elaborated that Osisko wants to be a community-type mine, which cares about community.
“We want to have Atikokan remain a kind of place where it’s okay to raise children,” he reasoned. “We’re not focusing on developing a Fort McMurray, we’re focusing on developing Atikokan of old, with the things that people liked about it—sports teams and things like that.
“We’ve got a lot of reference people, in terms of seniors, that can tell us all about that,” he added. “What kind of things help to make it a good community, and what things didn’t work.”
When asked if the company has done anything proactive to help with specialized training, Bowler replied the team has started to work with the chiefs in the area to make sure some of the basics of education are being addressed, whether that means improving access to driver’s licences or establishing scholarships for further education.
But he added the company doesn’t want to have people trained if there’s no mine going ahead. The project is just in the feasibility stage, and there’s time to work out partnerships with colleges and universities to make sure the training is effective.
“What we don’t want to do is set people up to be trained in something that doesn’t exist . . . after all, these are people’s lives.
“When they commit, we want to be able to commit, too,” Bowler vowed.
The socio-economic analysis will carry on as other aspects of the project progress in order to get the most up-to-date numbers and better help plan.
Another aspect of the project proceeding on track, meanwhile, is the environmental assessment process.
The environmental assessment officially started in September. The project description has been accepted by the federal government, which, in turn, has issued environmental impact statement guidelines that have been finalized (this outlines what has to be included in the environmental assessment).
“We are still undergoing review and revisions, finalization of the terms of reference, which is the comparable guidelines for the provincial government,” explained Cathryn Moffett, aboriginal and public relations engagement specialist at Golder Associates.
The environmental assessment is a planning tool that will allow the company to choose the best alternatives that have the least environmental impacts, she added.
Having a completed environmental assessment, that’s accepted by both the federal and provincial government, is a necessary step before permits can be issued and construction of the mine can begin.
The environmental assessment report hopefully will be done in the next one-two years. Permitting could take another year, then construction is expected to take two years, note Moffett.
The Hammond Reef property, which was acquired in 2010, has an inferred resource of 10.52 million ounces of gold—an increase of 65 percent since the 2009 estimation published by the former owner, Brett Resources.
The current workforce for the Hammond Reef Gold Project is about 100 people. Additional contract workers on the site, such a drillers, comprise about 100 more people.
During the mine construction, which would last about two years, there could be up to 2,000 people working at it (these would be short-term jobs).
The operations workforce, which the company is estimating will be in place for 14 years, will be about 500 people.
Moffett said the company has made a commitment to buy local.
“[Atikokan] is small town and is really starting to benefit from even the exploration project,” she noted.
Examples of purchases include cleaning products, hardware/electrical, auto parts, groceries and catering, and hotel accommodations.
Bowler said the company has bought heavy equipment from Emo, as well as pickup trucks from several places, with the most recent purchases from Thunder Bay.
“Our goal is: as locally as possible,” he stressed.
The site likely would consist of three areas: the open pit (actually two, but these would be done one at a time), the ore processing facility, and the tailings management area.
Mitta Lake will have to drained as part of the open pit project. With consultation from participating First Nations, the fish in the lake will be relocated to the Marmion Reservoir.
The waste rock (rock that is blasted from the pit but does not contain gold ore) would be piled one km from the mine. Some could be put back into the first pit.
Osisko is committed to progressively reclaiming, which means soil and vegetation would be added to the waste rock as they go, so it’s more like a vegetative hill as opposed to a pile of rocks.
The ore (rock that contains gold) would be stockpiled in two piles close to the processing facility. These would not be permanent as they would be fed into the processing facility.
The ore processing facility is designed for a throughput of 50,000 tonnes/day. It processes by crushing, grinding, flotation, cyanide leaching, electrowinning, and refinement in furnaces.
A major component of processing is water use. While details have yet to be finalized, it could use about 82,000 cubic metres a day.
Ideally, only 3,200 cubic metres will be fresh water drawn from nearby sources each day; the rest will be recycled.
The tailings management area is important, too. The 50,000 tonnes of ore that goes through the processing facility each day will come out as either gold or tailings.
The tailings need to be managed carefully, and right now three possible locations are being considered to put the tailings.
The company will try to mitigate negative impacts, and compensate for those impacts when they’re unavoidable.
If the mining project goes into production, the site won’t have a camp there but workers will travel by road from Atikokan.