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Rio Tinto asks public for input on operations

September 12, 2012
By JOHN PEPIN - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

BIG BAY - Rio Tinto rolled out its new Eagle Mine Community Scorecard Tuesday, an initiative designed to gauge how well the mining company is meeting its goals in the eyes of local residents.

"In Eagle, we want to lead on what the community thinks of us," said Simon Nish, director of communities, communications and external relations for Rio Tinto. "We're starting this. It's not perfect. It will build and get better."

Using electronic devices, attendees at a public forum in Powell Township Tuesday were able to vote in real time on whether Rio Tinto has met, exceeded or fallen below expectations in five key areas, including environmental performance, local hires, safety, transparency and communication, and leaving the area better than when the company arrived.

Article Photos

Matt Johnson, government and community relations manager for Rio Tinto, leads a community forum Tuesday in Powell Township. The session was the first of five scheduled throughout the area this month. (Journal photo by John Pepin)

Those subject areas were selected as important concerns by the community in previous contacts with the mining company over the past several months.

Results of the voting will be compiled from five public forums, including Tuesday's meeting in Powell Township, and published. Every six months, the company will return to the communities to record additional votes.

Voting was limited Tuesday to residents of the community and did not include any Rio Tinto employees or contractors working for the mining company. A total of 22 residents voted in Powell Township.

In the area of environmental performance, the mining company has recorded no permit violations at the mine or Humboldt Mill within the past six months. Of those 22 Powell Township individuals voting, 59 percent said the company met expectations for environmental performance; 18 percent said expectations were exceeded and 23 percent said they were unmet.

For local hiring, Rio Tinto has a goal of having 75 percent of its workforce composed of local hires during mine operations. So far, under the mine and mill construction phase, a six-month local hire average - including direct hires and contractors - was 70 percent.

Fifty-five percent of the voters said this met expectations; 23 percent both said the local hires exceeded and didn't meet expectations, with the percentages rounded off.

One injury was recorded at the mine in the six-month period between March and August. A worker severed a thumb in equipment while working on an exploration drilling rig. Thirty-three percent of the voters said this safety record met expectations; 43 percent said expectations were exceeded and 24 percent said they were not met.

In Rio Tinto's communication and transparency efforts, more than 900 visitors have been to the company's education center in downtown Marquette, 339 people have taken mine tours, with the company paying to run 327 radio spots and 80 print advertisements.

Forty-one percent of the Powell Township voters said this met expectations, while 27 percent said expectations were exceeded and 32 percent said expectations were not reached.

In the area of "leaving more wood on the wood pile," or achieving the goal of leaving the area better than when the company arrived, initiatives in this area are in the beginning stages. So far, the company said 12 miles of roads have been newly created or improved and 30 miles of new electric lines have been constructed.

Forty-one percent of the voters said this both met expectations and measured below expectations, with 18 percent voting that expectations had been exceeded.

In addition to registering their votes, the Powell Township residents were given the opportunity to offer suggestions on how the company could improve in each of the subject areas.

The two-hour forum also included updates on progress at the Eagle Mine and Humboldt Mill and questions were answered from the public on subjects including waste rock storage, miner refuge chambers and potential impacts to groundwater, with transportation route and trucking issues dominating the discussions.

The Rio Tinto public forums are all scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. and continue today at the Michigamme Township Hall in Michigamme; Sept. 17 at the Humboldt Township Hall in Champion; Sept. 24 at the Ramada Inn in Marquette; and Sept. 26 at the American Legion Hall in L'Anse.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.



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