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An analysis of stakeholder perceptions regarding the closure of the Highland Valley Copper Mine Roberts, Stephen Alexander

Abstract

The focus of mine closure policies and practice in British Columbia has undergone considerable change since the first closure laws were enacted in the late 1960s. Even though the technical standards for determining what constitutes a successful mine reclamation project have risen considerably over the past three decades, the public’s growing hostility toward the industry suggests that expectations have risen even faster. In response to the public’s rising expectations, the mining industry has begun to develop new policies for integrating sustainable development principles into their closure planning models, but creating a systematic and transparent framework for measuring and reporting actual system performance remains elusive. Sustainable Development Indicators (SDIs) may provide part of the solution, but a problem with many of the proposed indicator systems is that they focus too narrowly on biophysical impacts while neglecting social and economic impacts. Furthermore, most indicator systems were developed by and for experts, thus making them ill-suited for describing system performance from the perspective of those living in the affected communities. To facilitate greater public understanding those charged with developing policies for mine closure and reclamation need to work with stakeholders to develop a set of “sustainability proofs” that simply and effectively communicates to the local community how the company’s reclamation and closure program will assist the community in making the transition to a post-mining economy. This case study of the Highland Valley Copper (HVC) mine presents a framework for identifying these indicators that utilizes a heuristic model to integrate expert advice with local knowledge. Twenty stakeholders were interviewed to determine their perceptions of the quality and focus of HVC’s closure planning and reclamation program to date. Despite the fact that the community’s capacity for effective long-term consultation is limited, the results underscore the fact that local stakeholders fully expect to be involved in preparing the final closure plan. There is a clear preference for a closure plan that would allow another industrial user to assume partial control over the site. Evidence was provided which suggests that aesthetics play an important function for evaluating the effectiveness of HVC’s reclamation program. Finally, the issue of third party liability is seen as an important impediment to any plan to have the site support a follow-on industry. The limitations of the study and future directions for research are also discussed. Key Words: Aesthetics, Community Capacity, Highland Valley Copper mine, Mine Closure and Reclamation Policy, Public Consultation, Sustainable Development Indicators

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