What happens to a community when a mine or other industry closes?

Stratos works with industry, government, and communities on projects related to all stages of the mining life-cycle, including mine closure and reclamation, – so we are often thinking about what happens in a community when a mine closes and the best way to plan for this eventuality. Often mine closure focuses on environmental and technical aspects, yet there are also significant social challenges. These include impacts on employment, local businesses, housing, education and health services in the community. Less quantifiable impacts such as those on social fabric (e.g. community organizations) and individual wellness (e.g. people’s feelings of stress or uncertainty about the future) are also important to consider. One tool for managing social aspects of mine closure is a social closure plan.

A social closure plan is a management plan developed to achieve the following objectives:

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The business case for social closure planning includes improved reputation, stakeholder relations, operations management, and reduced risk. More broadly, attention to social closure and successful implementation of closure plans is crucial part of the benefits equation for mining – especially in remote areas and jurisdictions with limited economic development options, such as those in Canada’s North.

As we know, the best laid plans often go awry and implementation is a common challenge. Some keys to success for the internal management of social closure plans include:

  • Engage early and build relationships! The best time to begin planning for the social aspects of closure is during the site development phase, and the second best time is now.
  • Engage with government and communities to establish a post-operations vision and goals for the region, clarify roles and responsibilities, build capacity to improve the likelihood that closure initiatives succeed
  • Generate plans based on a thorough set of information, including stakeholder input, socio-economic studies, and impact and risk assessments
  • Integrate the plan within existing management systems (e.g. community development and stakeholder engagement programs) and with functions throughout the organization, and
  • Regularly review and revise the social closure plan to reflect changing conditions and expectations, and new data and information, including experience gained through pilot projects.

In some contexts, social closure may benefit from a regional approach, especially where multiple communities are affected. A regional approach creates more potential for business partnerships and synergies, government strategies and programs, and inter-community cooperation.

Social closure is not only an issue for communities involved in mining, but also for other resource-sector dependent communities and those affected by energy transition due to climate change policy (e.g. communities affected by coal plant closures). Governments, communities, and companies all have a role in developing and implementing social closure strategies and plans.