Building early community relationships

Community consultation is a key part of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process. On behalf of Oromin Joint Venture Group (Oromin), SRK Consulting Canada recently initiated a public consultation program as part of the ESIA process for Oromin’s potential new mine at Sabodala in Senegal. The Oromin Sabodala project is currently in the prefeasibility phase.

During exploration, Oromin followed a program of not excluding people from the land, allowing artisanal miners to cohabit and allowing foraging to continue in areas away from active exploration operations. Oromin set up a social program, as legally required, focused on education and clean water supply, as well as local employment, where possible. The company has also provided medical assistance and health training to local communities and engaged in open communication. As a result, Oromin is highly regarded by local communities and seen as a responsible operator, and SRK was able to initiate public consultation with a significant level of favorable interaction already in place. This positive beginning made public consultation less expensive and far more effective as the potentially affected people felt comfortable expressing their issues and concerns very quickly in the process.

SRK started the ESIA process early, before prefeasibility, bringing continuity to the community programs that Oromin started. This allowed SRK to share information and involve potentially affected parties in influencing decisions from the start. The interaction is purposefully two-way; SRK provides information about the proposed mine while listening for the priorities, concerns and preferences that reflect what is important to the affected parties. The interaction helps build the relationship with the mining company and create the trust required for future interaction. The most critical time to obtain community approval of the process is the first few months of public consultation. During this time, the community is testing the consultation process itself to see how it represents their concerns.

Early feedback also helps the prefeasibility team make better project decisions for a mutually acceptable mine plan. As an integral part of the project, public consultation allows for an iterative exchange between the community, government and engineering. Through this exchange the stakeholders affirm their influence and develop trust in the relationship. This continuing feedback process leads to a mine plan that affected parties are more likely to support. It may also relieve some of the decision burden later, during regulatory review and permitting.

Oromin has prepared the way for efficient public consultation by creating open discussion with and by setting up their social program and operations to include local villages. The efforts to build relationships and trust with the affected parties, government and community have created confidence in Oromin and the Sabodala Project. The mine’s team will continue consultations through the stages of mine development, operations and closure to ensure that the affected parties’ concerns are considered in the mine decisions.

The SRK Canada team, led by Mark Vendrig, includes specialists in socioeconomics and biophysical environment studies. SRK’s continual presence on site includes a locally employed and trained assistant, who conducts monthly visits to all local villages to maintain contact and obtain feedback.

Mark Vendrig:

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