At a typical reclaimed mine site, all or part of the grounds will be enclosed by a fence. Signs will warn visitors not to enter, of danger within. However, geotechnical engineer Gord McKenna envisions portions of a mine returned to nature or to community use while the mine is still in operation and, at the end of mine-life, no fencing, no warning signs.
At the September 2019 BC Mine Reclamation Symposium in Kimberley, British Columbia, McKenna announced the creation of the Landform Design Institute, whose mission is to provide the tools and case histories that will make his vision the norm for former mine sites. As a first step, the University of Alberta will run a five-day graduate course on landform design in December 2019.
All mines draw up closure plans as part of their approval process, and they all look good on paper, McKenna told EcoLog News in a telephone interview. But few are fully realized.
Today’s mines are big and complex. McKenna says it’s very rare to see a closed mine fully returned to the community. There are many reasons why. McKenna says one reason is that miners and regulators seldom begin with a clear picture of what the mine site should look like once the mine is no longer there. He believes that adopting the principles of landform design will help turn that around.
Landform design requires the involvement of an interdisciplinary team — engineers, planners, biologists — when the closure plan is being drawn up, and revisiting the plan as the mine evolves. It means keeping closure requirements in mind as the mine is built, and it means rehabilitating the mine gradually as areas of the mine are exhausted. It means starting off with an end-of-mine-life design, and building it over the life of the mine.
Many mines do this already, McKenna concedes, but only to a degree and at a very high level. Landform design principles require that the planning be taken more thoughtfully, and approached more systematically.
Mine reclamation through landform design isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff either. It is being practised at mines around the world, including some in Canada, says McKenna.
Miners typically underestimate closure costs, but in terms of actual expenditure, McKenna says landform design shouldn’t cost mine owners any more over the life of the mine. It may even save them money. They’ll simply pay a bit more during mine operations, and a bit less during closure. They’ll also enjoy several soft benefits during the mine’s life, he argues, such as stronger relationships with local communities and fewer disagreements with regulators.