Timmins: A Community Abuzz About Goldcorp’s Land Restoration Activities

This article is from Goldcorp’s new Corporate Social Responsibility in-house publication called Above Ground. (Fall/Winter 2010 issue)

Shania Twain’s hometown is a hive of activity as Goldcorp does a clean sweep – enriching habitat, raising honeybees and creating trails.

In the 100-year-old city of Timmins, Ontario (the “City with a Heart of Gold”), resides another centenarian – Goldcorp’s Porcupine Gold Mines (PGM). Since its discovery in 1910, PGM is North America’s longest continually operating gold mine – a testament to the mineral richness of this region.

Hence the allure to companies over the century – some digging in then ducking out, others going bankrupt and too many leaving unsafe lands behind. Over 20 abandoned mines blighted the PGM site for decades, until Goldcorp acquired the complex in 2006 and committed to resurrecting the lands as wildlife habitats, nature trails, green fields and even a new and improved sliding hill.

“We are not just here to take the resources and not give back,” says Dave Bucar, Strategic Development Manager for PGM. “In the past three years, we’ve spent upwards of $24 million just on reclamation of properties that we may never mine again… but it’s our duty to go in and clean these up.”

PGM Environmental Manager László Götz agrees. “We don’t operate the way the old mining companies used to, which is to pack up and leave sites as is. We’ve committed to extensive rehabilitation across the city.”

The first of these major projects was the historical Coniaurum mine, which now features a bee-keeping operation and habitat creation. The work continues today with major reclamation of the old Hollinger tailings and mine site.

In a letter to the local newspaper, Timmins resident William Litchfield expressed thanks on behalf of his community and praised Goldcorp as a corporate citizen that cares. “The Company… is making a genuine effort to remove any blights inherited from properties that have been closed for years… and the effects of Goldcorp’s aims and objectives will be felt for generations to come.”

The pros & Coniaurum

Latin for “constant gold”, Coniaurum was mined for decades and then abandoned in 1961, long before Goldcorp came on the scene. But as part of the Porcupine portfolio, Coniaurum was the first site to be reclaimed, serving as a learning ground for projects to come. Götz says his team made a list of environmental and public priorities, and then formulated a plan to eliminate metallic seepage into the Porcupine River. “Coniaurum looked like a mini Grand Canyon, posing public danger to four-wheelers and cyclists who frequented the area.”

“We blasted bedrock, contoured the site by piling tailings to create slopes and valleys, and constructed storm drains. We also partnered with AbitibiBowater Pulp & Paper Co. to recycle wood-fibre waste and put it to good use as topcover for vegetation.”

Today, the site features hills, trees, wildflowers and fields supporting thousands of species – completely different from the barren landscape it was a few years ago, says Götz. “We invited the elders of the nearby First Nations to view the site, and one woman got very excited and said ‘There are medicinal plants growing here that I have not seen since I was a little girl.’ Once the growth is more mature, we will create trails here for walkers and hikers to enjoy.”

Winner of the 2008 Nova Award for outstanding reclamation, Coniaurum remains an off-road favourite of local outdoor enthusiasts. The site is safer, but there are snags, says Bucar. “This is a large land mass, much of which is open and inviting to four-wheelers. Wood-fibre biomass is mucky and spongy for the first few years, making it easy to get stuck. We can’t patrol 24/7, so sometimes riders are mired for a while before we arrive to help them out.”

This is just another community service courtesy of Goldcorp.

“ A big part of being sustainable is continuing to learn.
The other part is to use what we have learned to ensure a better future for all.”
Chris Cormier, General Manager, Porcupine Gold Mines

The bees knees

To diversify the Coniaurum ecosystem further, PGM and the Porcupine Watchful Eye, a community group partnering with Goldcorp to create positive change, resurrected a bee program originally initiated ten years ago at another old PGM site. The goal then was to enhance the area’s plants and flowers through pollination. Now there is another critical aim – replenish the
dwindling bee population across North America.

A decade ago, the first colony got off to a great start, but never reached fruition because bears got in, destroyed the hives and ate the honey. This time around, an eco-friendly, solar-panelled electric fence was erected. A local beekeeper supplied hives, equipment and the knowhow to run the operation.

Months later, says Bucar, “We harvested over 50 pounds of premium honey in time for PGM’s 100th anniversary. We called it “Liquid Gold” and had it pasteurized and bottled by Ivyridge Honey Farm in Consecon, Ontario. The yield filled 96 jars which needed labels, so we held a staff contest for design ideas. The winner was Rod Turnbull, whose wife is a PGM exploration geologist.”

The other big winner is the Coniaurum habitat. Götz explains, “The effect of the bees was a huge diversification in the ecosystem in just one year. We proved that we could successfully return these lands to nature and enhance the bee population for environmental sustainability.” To benefit other wildlife, Porcupine Watchful Eye and PGM started a duckbox program to create a seasonal habitat. Local high school students built nesting boxes and placed them in wetland areas adjacent to Coniaurum.

To benefit creatures and citizens alike, a batbox program is also in place. Again, students built roosts to boost the number of these friendly fliers who eat millions of mosquitoes – now that’s a great “batting” average.

Eco-tobogganing

Bucar remembers the sliding hill in Timmins as a heap of winter fun. At the turn of the century, mining technology was basic at best, so companies simply piled tailings into the nearest valley. Over the years, the heap grew and when snow covered the mound, children descended. But in spring, summer and fall, residents complained that the hill was an eyesore. The remaining metallic content was rusting, turning it an ugly orange colour, and nothing grew on or around the mound. Goldcorp’s concern was the environmental impact – without vegetation, the hill would continue to erode and could pose safety hazards.

We don’t operate the way the old mining companies used to, which is to pack up
and leave sites as is. We’ve committed to extensive rehabilitation
across the city.” László Götz, Environmental Manager, Porcupine Gold Mines

“So while we were reclaiming the areas around here, Goldcorp offered to clean and revegetate the hill for the city and the residents,” says Götz. “We scraped it clean, covered it with organic soil and planted it, and now it’s a nicely sloped grassy spot that complements the adjacent Gillies Lake Recreational Area.”

Bucar adds, “Being able to create a safe and fun family attraction in the city far outweighs the cost involved for Goldcorp. It’s a positive investment in the community.”

Happy Hollinger trails

Similar to the success of Coniaurum, a project of greater magnitude is Hollinger… Once again PGM will turn deserted and neglected land into a lush, green, productive habitat. – William Russell, Chairman, Porcupine Watchful Eye

An underground operation from 1910 to 1968, Hollinger mine’s tailings area was a complex clean-up, but a priority for Goldcorp because the site spans the headwaters of the town creek, which flows through Timmins. Götz says, “When we were characterizing all the old Porcupine properties, we saw here that the surface rocks had turned into craters like the surface of the moon. The earth was badly damaged. But we learned a lot from Coniaurum, so we knew what we could do.”

The tailings area had to be contoured to promote proper drainage from the property, but first, the overlying acidic tailings were scraped down to bedrock and relocated to a containment area to prevent ongoing seepage into the environment. Acidic residue was covered with lime – a precaution proven in previous reclamation projects.

PGM also rerouted the hiking and biking trails that run from the hospital to Hersey Lake to ensure safety during construction. To thoroughly clean the area, the whole downstream area was dug up, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of tailings were moved out, and clean earth was moved back in to allow for revegetation.

Bucar says that Goldcorp also extended trail sections and enhanced the entire network as a result of community feedback. “We held several meetings and an open house and, based on that input, we incorporated more emphasis on safety and conservation with well-marked pathways and interpretive signposts.”

In total, Goldcorp spent nearly $9 million last year alone rehabilitating former mine sites to create clean and safe city recreational areas.

Shania tours

Mining tours have always been popular in this gold-rich area and while the focus used to be open pit activities and heavy-duty equipment, today there is growing interest in environmental stewardship.

Bucar says, “People have always seen the front end of our operations. Now we also showcase the backyard we’ve created. Groups can see the before and after and visit various sites which demonstrate all the stages of our ongoing projects.”

Götz conducts guided tours of rehabilitated mine sites for groups of school students, technical professionals, engineers and Shania Twain fans. Last year, the famous singer’s followers represented fan clubs from the US, Sweden, Denmark and other European nations, all curious to learn about the superstar’s hometown.

Another tour group was curious about the biomass PGM uses to jumpstart growth, says Götz. “Several scientists visited and were sceptical about the realism of the lush landscape. They said it looked like sci-fi terrain. I had to explain that the wood-fibre topping we spread is so nutrient rich that, for the first few years, the vegetation is ultra verdant but eventually fades once all the nutrients are absorbed.”

The scientists departed, green with envy.

Bionic Biomass

Goldcorp’s secret to speed lush new growth on reclaimed sites is not pulp fiction; it’s pulp fact.

“Biomass”, also known as “biosolid”, is a super-potent soil substitute recycled from a by-product cast off from pulp and paper mills. Made up of wood chips, beneficial bacteria, water and fibre, biomass is spongy when wet, like peat moss when dry and 10 times better than compost, producing an initial intense green tinge to new vegetation that fades to normal with time and weather.

By recycling a waste product to reclaim former wasteland, Goldcorp remains tops in environmental responsibility.

Notable Nuggets

Tailings are crushed rock residue left over from the process of extracting gold from ore.

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