Seabridge Gold Environmental Assessment Application
Support and Guidance during the Regulatory Process
- A $5 billion mining Project needed public relations support to ensure it received an environmental assessment (EA) certificate from the provincial government and approval from the federal government. To receive the EA certification, as part of the communications consultancy activities, PR Associates (PRA) needed to address the following plausible business risks for the Project:
- The perception of the project facing insurmountable environmental challenges during the application assessment process and that the project is stalled
- The relationship with stakeholders is acrimonious and the social license to operate is at risk
- Opposition galvanizes over concerns expressed in the project screening or during working group meetings
- Communities and organizations become alienated over the lack of progress on jobs, skills training and contracting
PRA was asked to develop and execute a long-term communications plan to engage with all stakeholders – Local Communities, Aboriginal groups, Government, NGOs, Analysts & Shareholders, Industry – supporting its EA application process.
The main goal was to positively influence target audience perceptions by understanding the need-gap equation and addressing them with impactful communication tactics.
We began the project by designing and executing a statistically valid perception audit used to understand stakeholders’ level of acceptance and perceptions of the KSM Project.
We then led a stakeholder mapping exercise with key senior members of the Project team.
Using the perception audit and stakeholder mapping results, we created a communication strategy that included specific targeted audiences and all areas of strategic communications: Indigenous relations, government relations, community relations, issues management, media relations, social media, online and digital communications, crisis communications planning, and advertising.
Comprehensive community engagement builds project support
Seabridge Gold needed public support to ensure its Copper-Gold project received an environmental assessment certificate from the provincial government and approval from the federal government – and equally important – that it establishes a mutually beneficial relationship with the community for the ensuing 50+ years. Under the environmental assessment (EA) process, companies are required to undertake community engagement to inform the public about the project, the opportunities and potential impacts it will bring, and enable them to provide feedback and ask questions. However, going beyond the basic level of community engagement is viewed more favourably by the government and is plays an important role earning the social licence to operate, which has become essential for resource development companies.
Traditionally, the objective of community engagement has been to meet the regulatory body’s requirement for public consultation. Activities revolved around providing information to the public by means of printed materials and some workshop/open house type events. Recently however, there has been a shift towards “community involvement” – developing relationships with those people who live and work closest to an industrial development project as a way to build trust in the company and faith in the project.
Developing trusting relationships with community members requires proactive, sustained, open, honest, and transparent communication
PRA worked with the Project team over seven years to carry out a range of initiatives, including: created a dedicated project website to house information; developed project information materials, handouts, fact sheets, videos and posters for community information meetings; and developed monthly advertorials for the local newspapers to provide updates on project work, the EA process progress and efforts to give back to the community through sponsorship and support of local service providers. PRA also set up and provided support at community information sessions. In addition, PRA undertook targeted media engagement to share news about the Project’s developments in the EA process and the company’s sponsorships and contributions to support local communities.
Approval rating from the stakeholders
Not only was Seabridge Gold’s project granted an EA certificate by the BC government and approved by the federal government, the provincial government has since been profiling the company as a model for community and Aboriginal engagement, emphasizing its success in garnering public support and earning the social licence to operate. As well surveys to measure public awareness of and support for the project and Seabridge’s level of trust have been favourable.
The project was subsequently awarded Provincial and Federal environmental approval in August and December 2014, respectively.
Upon application for an environmental certificate from both the federal and provincial governments, a perception audit indicated the project had an 84% approval rating from the stakeholders.
The survey indicated the stakeholders understood the completed engineering and environmental work and felt comfortable with the results.
Following the environmental assessment review, PR Associates continues to support the Project team on their need to sustain a constructive and informed stakeholder dialogue ensuring support for its Project; facilitate timely issuance of permits; and maintain and gain active support for the Project.
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