Operations: The Growing Business of Reclamation
The world’s expectations in the matter of land management have risen dramatically over the last nine decades. So has Inco raised its demands, becoming one of the country’s leaders.
Inco’s first foray into land management was in 1917 with the creation of an agriculture team, charged with preparing the WWI “Victory Gardens” in Copper Cliff. Real reclamation efforts began in the 1950s, and as we begin the Twenty-First Century, genuine change has taken root throughout the Sudbury region. Today’s decommissioning and reclamation department has 14 team members and an annual budget of about $15 million.
The most visible part of Inco’s efforts is the regreening of Sudbury, undertaken with business, local government, and volunteer partners. Each year the company grows 200,000 red pine seedlings in its surface greenhouses. Another 50,000 seedlings get their start in underground greenhouses in the Creighton mine. The underground program is 17 years old and very successful. Inco plants about two-thirds of the seedlings itself, both on its own properties and as part of the regional regreening program. The other third are donated to non-profit groups such as Scouts Canada.
In all, estimates ground supervisor Mike Peters, Inco has grown over 3 million trees. His job includes going underground twice a week to fertilize the seedlings and check on the automatic lighting and watering systems.
Inco has about 44 inactive sites in Ontario, and about half of then have been fully reclaimed. The mined-out Whistle pit is in the process of being decommissioned. Also the Shebandowan headframe was removed and that shaft capped; this year the mill buildings will come down. The Shebandowan tails are stored under a water cover and do not need an effluent treatment plant, although they will continue to be monitored.
The tailing area near Sudbury consists of approximately 3,000 hectares. Areas containing high amounts of pyrrhotite, which is acid-generating, are stored subaqueously. Inactive tailing areas are revegetated with grasses and native species. The R area, the only currently active area, will contain tails generated for another 25 years. It is located near a housing subdivision, and consequently dust control is a major undertaking. Straw mulch and Entac spray go a long way to averting problems.
The decommissioning and reclamation department is also responsible for long-term closure plans. Toward that end the department has conducted groundwater, surface water and other baseline studies at all sites. They are also collecting geotechnical data as part of closure plans.