4.9 Community involvement in monitoring implementation

4.9.1 Environmental monitoring programs

With greater emphasis on sustainable development and increasing stakeholder involvement in decision- making, it is expected that communities will have a more active role in monitoring programs.

The principle of consulting community stakeholders in setting environmental monitoring and management objectives, as well as in selecting water-quality indicators to monitor and water-quality objectives to assess them against, is embodied in the ANZECC–ARMCANZ (2000ab) framework for water quality management. While it has not been widely adopted, leading practice operations have taken this approach. The Rum Jungle case study provides an example.

Collapsed - Case study: Rum Jungle Environmental Values Project

Acid and metalliferous drainage at the former Rum Jungle copper and uranium mine in the Northern Territory has led to significant impacts on local groundwater and on the aquatic environment of the East Branch of the Finniss River. Although rehabilitation was undertaken in the 1980s, it was not to a level that meets current leading practice for mine closure. In addition, the works were done without input from the traditional Aboriginal owners of the area.

The Northern Territory and Australian governments have been working under a partnership agreement to improve site maintenance and environmental monitoring and to develop an improved rehabilitation strategy for the site that is beneficial to stakeholders and consistent with the views and interests of the traditional owners. As part of this project, in early 2013 the territory’s Department of Mines and Energy (DME) completed a study of the environmental values downstream of Rum Jungle. The aim was to describe the receiving environment’s key ecological and geomorphological characteristics, identify environmental values of importance to the stakeholders, particularly the traditional owners, and set appropriate water-quality objectives for the rehabilitation of the mine based on those values. An environmental monitoring plan was then designed so that improvements in water quality could be measured as further rehabilitation of the site went ahead.

The study was done by a team of scientific experts with a range of relevant technical skills and a detailed knowledge of the area. The team carefully reviewed historical data and scientific reports, conducted a field inspection and held consultations with stakeholders, including the four main traditional owner groups. The team discovered that, while a substantial amount of monitoring data had been collected over the years, focused mainly on waters within the mine site, there were substantial data gaps for environmental quality in the river and riverbank habitats downstream of the mine.

An important part of the fieldwork was to identify cultural values through meetings with traditional owners. Their contribution helped the team identify the cultural values that needed to be considered as part of the ANZECC–ARMCANZ (2000b) method of identifying environmental values and setting water-quality objectives. The team learned that the health of the river, its ability to flow freely, and the abundance and wellbeing of totem and other culturally and spiritually significant organisms and traditional foods were particularly important to the traditional owners. Because many of those cultural values were closely linked to aquatic ecosystem health, it was possible to use water-quality trigger values as surrogates for cultural value protection. This approach was agreed to by the traditional owners.

The study found that the 1980s rehabilitation of the mine site greatly improved the quality of downstream flows, reducing contaminant loads in the East Branch by factors of three to seven on an annual basis (Jeffree et al. 2001). However, water quality in the branch is still at times well above applicable trigger values for aquatic ecosystem protection. Sediments along the branch also contain metal concentrations above the sediment quality guidelines.

Studies during the 1990s documented the status and recovery of water quality and aquatic organisms following the start of rehabilitation in 1983, indicating that substantial recovery had occurred in the main Finniss River, but that aquatic ecosystems remained degraded in the East Branch. However, there had been very little investigation of riparian vegetation during the pre-mining, mining and post-rehabilitation periods despite extensive riparian vegetation dieback during operations. While there was some recovery in the East Branch, some parts of the riparian corridor remained highly affected. The riparian condition of the main Finniss River (downstream from its junction with the East Branch) was generally much better, improving with distance downstream.

Near the coast, the Finniss River flows through the Finniss River Coastal Floodplain Site of Conservation Significance, which supports a number of listed threatened species. However, very little was known about the status of riparian and aquatic rare and threatened flora and fauna within or near the mine site, despite the cultural importance of several of those and other more common species.

To identify environmental values and develop water-quality objectives from them, the downstream river system was divided into nine zones (four in the East Branch between upstream of the mine and the branch’s confluence with the Finniss River and five in the Finniss River from upstream of the East Branch confluence to the estuary, including the site of conservation significance). This was undertaken because existing ecosystem health, environmental values, recovery potential and therefore targets differed along the river system. The environmental values considered for each zone were aquatic ecosystems, cultural/spiritual, wildlife habitats, primary recreation, secondary recreation, visual recreation, industrial usage, aquaculture, drinking water, irrigation, stock water and farm supply. Only aquatic ecosystems and cultural/spiritual environmental values were important for all zones.

Water quality objectives were developed for each zone for each water-quality parameter by selecting the lowest trigger value identified for any of the environmental values that applied to that zone. The objectives have subsequently been incorporated into rehabilitation planning and design to ensure that any future rehabilitation works address them.

For the highly affected zones in the East Branch within the mine lease area, it was considered that rehabilitation was unlikely to be capable of providing water quality that would afford the same level of protection of aquatic ecosystems selected for zones further downstream. Higher concentration trigger values were therefore nominated for those zones. Because they were selected in terms of the percentage of species protected, it was possible to convey to the traditional owners what was implied by these reduced levels of protection and reach agreement on the water-quality objectives for those zones.

The recommended monitoring program developed from the study aims to provide a sufficiently robust current baseline against which to assess rehabilitation success. It comprises water quality, aquatic biota, aquatic and riparian tetrapoda (vertebrates other than fishes); channel processes (such as erosion and sediment deposition); riparian vegetation; and bush foods identified by traditional owners. Monitoring locations include upstream reference sites and sites as far downstream as impacts had historically been detected or might be expected to occur in the future.

The assessment team recommended that routine monitoring should be supported by targeted studies in the first instance to help develop locally derived water-quality objectives, and that the findings should be regularly reported to the public and directly to the traditional owners.

Rum Jungle mine when operating

Rum Jungle mine when operating.

Dr R Smith of the study team testing the water quality of a pool in the East Branch

Dr R Smith of the study team testing the water quality of a pool in the East Branch.

Pools in the diversion channel at Rum Jungle affected by contaminants from the former Rum Jungle mine.

Pools in the diversion channel at Rum Jungle affected by contaminants from the former Rum Jungle mine.

Sandy sediments fill the channel in the lower East Branch.

Sandy sediments fill the channel in the lower East Branch.

Map of the Finniss River system showing the zones used for setting water-quality objectives

Map of the Finniss River system showing the zones used for setting water-quality objectives.

Community engagement in the collection of environmental monitoring data requires consideration of the training and skills needed for community participants and data quality management to ensure the validity and utility of the monitoring results. Nonetheless, it can and has been adopted with considerable success. Streamwatch (www.streamwatch.org.au) is an example of a successful community-driven environmental monitoring program outside the resources sector that demonstrates the real value that can be realised by community environmental monitoring. In the mining industry, there are many examples of community involvement, such as volunteer helpers in field programs, landowners hosting and helping to maintain automatic weather or gauging stations, local student internships, and community members providing anecdotal accounts of species presence or absence and historical changes to landscapes and habitats.

Leading practice adopters of community engagement realise the benefits of better community understanding of environmental monitoring results and the constraints on collection of monitoring data. In areas where environmental monitoring engages with communities with subsistence economies, income earned by participating in monitoring can be a substantial boost to the local economy, providing additional positive community sentiment.

Web-based consultation is an increasingly popular way for community members to have input to various stages of a project. It is well suited to engaging young people and those unable to attend meetings and can help to reduce ‘engagement fatigue’ among community participants.

4.9.2 Socioeconomic monitoring programs

As noted in Section 3.4.3, socioeconomic monitoring in the mining industry should ideally involve mechanisms for community input at each stage of the monitoring framework’s development and execution, potentially including data collection and the validation of outcomes.

Clearly, the capacity of a community to participate in data collection depends on the form and context of the data in question. Nevertheless, a well-designed socioeconomic monitoring framework that incorporates a mix of data types and sources should seek to include some degree of community participation at each stage of the monitoring program. Community groups that could facilitate that participation include community liaison groups, schools and local associations. It is also essential to consult and include local indigenous people (traditional owners) on a wide range of socioeconomic, cultural and heritage issues, as many issues are interrelated.

Socioeconomic monitoring programs that fail to include a cross-section of community interests may ultimately prove to be deficient as an organisational or community reference point. Tools to guide companies in identifying primary or secondary stakeholders include the ICMM Community development toolkit (ICMM n.d.).

Collapsed - Case study: Indigenous community involvement in monitoring for improved land management

Rio Tinto Alcan’s (RTA’s) Weipa bauxite operation is on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. The operation runs community engagement programs, driven by obligations in RTA Weipa’s Indigenous land use agreements that include ongoing consultation with traditional owners to identify potential land management impacts and opportunities before expanding the mine into new areas. The programs are developed by the RTA’s community relations, heritage and environment teams to address each team’s specific responsibilities.

The teams have begun to develop programs that facilitate the involvement of Indigenous communities in monitoring compliance responsibilities to improve land management across the site. The environment team developed the Deriving Cultural Values community consultation project in collaboration with traditional owners to capture their thoughts, values and aspirations relating to rehabilitation sites on the company’s mining leases. This project facilitated the input of Indigenous values into rehabilitation objectives and practices on site, identified the priority plants for traditional owners and described the cultural framework that defines the significance of the plants. This knowledge will help RTA to target appropriate plant species for rehabilitation and take into account other traditional owner values and aspirations for country after mining (‘country’ is the Aboriginal concept of land and includes their spiritual, physical, social and cultural connection to it).

The cultural heritage team collaborated with traditional owners to develop a proactive management approach to cultural heritage that identified the values and importance of cultural heritage places to them. This allows appropriate management and monitoring strategies for places and sites across the mining leases to be defined if and when they are affected by mining.

In 2013, RTA looked to expand mining activities into the areas east of the current East Weipa mine. This area had not been substantially affected by mining, and the land management of the area required significant community engagement with the traditional landowners, the Wathayn and Peppan peoples. Lessons from rehabilitation and cultural heritage workshops found that approaches to land management should be more holistic and deal with country, rather than engaging separately with community relations, heritage and environment.

The RTA teams and the Wathayn and Peppan traditional owners are developing a plan that collectively deals with all land management obligations for the area. The plan will be developed through a series of on-country workshops and meetings to detail RTA’s legal obligations and agreements for land management and identify traditional owners’ values and aspirations for the land. The plan will inform the way RTA implements its land management obligations on country to meet its legal and agreement requirements and the values and priorities of traditional owners.

Through this process, RTA will develop a clear understanding of what traditional owners want the company to be telling them about its land management and how its activities should be conducted, and identify opportunities for engaging in land management activities. The Communities, Heritage, and Environment Land Management Plan will detail the ongoing management and monitoring of the area, allowing for early detection of negative impacts to land, clear assessment of the effectiveness of RTA’s land management, and the development of effective remedies in collaboration with traditional owners.

4.9.3 Handling disputes and community grievances

Disputes between mines and communities, or particular groups within a community, are not uncommon. If handled well, engagement over difficult issues can help to strengthen relationships and demonstrate the mining operation’s willingness to address issues of concern (even when they cannot be fully resolved).

Early engagement, community participation, impact assessment, risk analysis, and commitments to human rights and community development are pre-emptive leading practice strategies that aim to prevent conflict arising in the first place.

Nevertheless, issues will inevitably arise and operations should prepare for them by establishing effective grievance and dispute resolution mechanisms as early in the mine life cycle as possible, including during the exploration phase. Monitoring mechanisms should include processes to communicate, receive, log, assess, respond to and report on complaints. Trends in incidents and complaints should be analysed and used to achieve better outcomes and demonstrate improvement in performance.

Early and inclusive engagement will help determine the optimal design for the consultation mechanism. The needs and preferences of vulnerable, minority and marginalised groups should be considered, for example by providing means to lodge grievances for people with low levels of literacy. Complaints mechanisms, whether formal or informal, should be monitored and evaluated regularly, including evaluating people’s satisfaction with the outcomes as well as with the process.

A recent study on mining and community grievances lists those elements of grievance mechanism recording and management that have worked and those that have not (see Appendix 3, from Kemp & Bond 2009).

Share this Page