Osisko will likely establish a permanent work camp at Hammond Reef, if development of a mine there goes ahead.
“Osisko will encourage employees to live in Atikokan,” Alexandra Drapack (manager of sustainable development for the Hammond Reef project) told Council Monday. “But we are concerned that if we do not offer on-site facilities [for workers], we may not be able to staff the project. [Getting the skilled workers the project will need] will likely require recruiting workers from across Canada.”
Once into production, about 500 workers will be needed for mining and milling operations, including many highly-skill workers (tradespeople, engineers, geologists). Those workers are in high demand today, and very used to working away from home and living in a camp.
Drapack said that the issue of a work camp needs to be addressed in the environmental assessment program now underway. There will be a work camp during the 30-month construction phase, when up to 1,000 workers (mainly through outside contractors) will be needed. That’s been part of the plan since the beginning. Now, the company is considering a permanent camp, scaled back once construction is completed.
Osisko is looking at a combination of strategies for recruiting workers that “considers both workers wishing to live in town, commuting daily by bus and workers wanting a shift rotation allowing them to reside elsewhere in Canada”.
“There are a lot benefits for workers living in town, and best for us is people who live here – they stick around,” she said. “Osisko policies will favour hiring local residents, as long as they have the qualifications for the position.”
She noted that fully half of the employees at Osisko’s Canadian Malartic mine live in the town of Malartic. It’s about Atikokan’s size (population 3,450), and is just 30 km from Val d’Or (population 32,000) and 80 km from Rouyn-Noranda (population 42,000).
Mayor Brown asked if the company would consider establishing its work camp in Atikokan, rather than at Hammond Reef. Drapack said that was unlikely; workers who were not interested in living in Atikokan would not like the idea of spending two hours commuting each day. That would negate much of the recruiting value the work camp would offer.
Vic Prokopchuk of the AEDC board said his first reaction to the news was disappointment.
“But as Alex explained, with all that is happening country-wide in mining, recruiting [the skilled workers needed] will be a challenge,” he said.
He went on to say Atikokan is in a very different situation than many that require work camps. They arise primarily in two situations: when the project is so large a boom (like that in the Fort McMurray) outstrips a community’s ability to provide affordable housing and services, or when the project is in an extremely isolated location, like the far north.
Prokopchuk said there were several ways Atikokan should address the issue, including encouraging the development of affordable housing, exploring what amenities and incentives might make living in the community the most attractive option for workers, and working with the company and the province to limit the extent of the services that are developed at a Hammond Reef camp.
He also suggested Atikokan should reach out to Ignace, which will be facing the same issues, and begin working more closely with it as the Bending Lake project advances.
Mayor Brown said he, too, was disappointed with the news, but understood the reasoning behind the decision. “They are in competition [for workers] with those other projects – the Ring of Fire, Rainy River Resources, Bending Lake…”
We are preparing for an influx of permanent residents as a result of the mine, said the mayor. “The number one thing is to have that mine. If there is a way of living in Atikokan and commuting to work at Hammond Reef, I think they will.”
Atikokan has the infrastructure – education, health care, sewer and water – to handle 2,000 or more new residents. Housing is an issue, but the Town and AEDC have been working on it, and, with provincial support, more than a dozen other investment-readiness projects.
He added that the Town is pressing the province to hire a mining coordinator, or at least provide more direct support to Atikokan, as the project unfolds.