March/April 2008

Engineering Exchange

Gartner Lee – easing the environmental assessment process

By H. Weldon


Kennarctic River mouth Grays Bay

In 1996, Gartner Lee, an already well-established engineering and environmental consulting group, took the plunge and branched out into the mining industry. The company’s experience in environmental engineering proved to be an invaluable asset as they quickly made a name for themselves in the mining industry. Today, with 28 per cent of its total revenues attributed to mining, Gartner Lee continues to flourish, with a strong reputation as a key facilitator of the environmental assessment and permitting process.

Gartner Lee was recently involved in the remediation of the old Gowganda mine in the Milner township of Ontario. Through various acquisitions, the property had come into the hands of EFNI, which had no previous involvement in the mining industry and had decided to give the land back to the Crown. Prior to the transfer, EFNI took full responsibility for the abandoned mine and hired Gartner Lee to assist them with the remediation.

Engineers from Gartner Lee first contacted the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and began a dialogue with government agents to assess what was required in order to clean up the property. The agents toured the property with Gartner Lee engineers, and together they were able to plan out what was needed to return the land to a safe, benign environment.

A total of 81 hazards were identified, including waste dumps, old shafts and trenches. Nine of the hazards required capping with an engineered cover, and some of the shafts had collapsed, resulting in the need to excavate down to bedrock before capping them off. The remaining hazards were amenable to backfilling and recontouring with readily available clean waste rock.

An important partnership was formed with a forestry company with cutting rights to the surrounding area. “It was a win-win situation: the forestry company used some of the waste rock to build roads, decreasing some of their costs, while at the same time giving us road access to the mine, allowing us to bring in the necessary equipment,” explained Neil Westoll, Gartner Lee’s global mining practice leader.

Once the work was completed, the land was turned over to the Crown. Because remediation was straightforward due to the purely physical nature of the hazards remediated and the benign nature of the waste rock and local water quality, EFNI was able to relinquish the property without the requirement of a bond posted (exit ticket) to cover future remediation costs. “Early engagement of the ministry was vital to meeting all requirements and easing the transfer of the property back to the Crown,” Westoll pointed out. “[They] became part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

In 2003, Gartner Lee was retained by Wolfden Resources Inc. to prepare an environmental impact statement and obtain the necessary permits to develop the High Lake project, a proposed high-grade copper/zinc mine located 60 kilometres south of tidewater on Coronation Gulf in Nunavut. In addition to soil, water and vegetation surveys, several types of wildlife surveys were conducted, including caribou, muskox, moose and raptor surveys. Wolf, grizzly bear and fox dens near the proposed developments were also studied. Whale and seal surveys were conducted near the potential shipping routes.

Gartner Lee took a proactive approach to preparing the environmental assessment process. As a first stepping stone to engaging with communities and regulators, Gartner Lee assisted Wolfden in developing a strategic plan to communicate Wolfden’s vision for the project and how it intended to approach the environmental assessment and permitting processes. Wolfden’s approach to the project was shaped by extensive consultation with stakeholders, particularly local and regional residents and communities who would be most affected by the project.

“This required a bit more time and work at the front end, but was the first step in building trust with stakeholders over the long term,” Westoll explained, “and the result was that the client was well regarded and the community was properly consulted.” Furthermore, Westoll went on to say that “the regulators were very pleased with the strategic plan. They knew what they were getting into and there were no surprises. Just as importantly, the community felt listened to, as Gartner Lee strongly believes that it is not enough to meet environmental needs, but also to meet the needs of the community.” Westoll suggested that this concept of transparency and putting all your cards on the table is a logical approach for any company, but can be extremely valuable to a relatively unknown junior company like Wolfden.

Wolfden has since been acquired by Zinifex Limited, which operates out of Australia, and is now Zinifex Canada. Not much has changed for Gartner Lee though; they have spent the last year preparing for public hearings on High Lake and are expecting approval to proceed to the regulatory phase of the project later this year.

What separates Gartner Lee from some of the other environmental and engineering consultants? It has taken the opportunity to work extensively for both government and private industry. This allows the Gartner Lee team to see both sides of the issue. “Working with both sides has given us the experience and all-important contacts that can help all of our clients,” Westoll confirmed.

Gartner Lee recently accepted an offer to be acquired by AECOM, a large international professional services organization. Under the agreement, Gartner Lee keeps its name and identity, something it has earned through hard work and important accomplishments, but benefits from the additional skills and geographic exposure that being a member of the AECOM family brings. AECOM can ease the transition for Gartner Lee to expand internationally, as well as giving it the opportunity to take advantage of interesting synergies within the organization. In the next few years, Gartner Lee expects to be a well known name in North America – and beyond.

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