The coexistence of tourism and Europe’s largest gold mine is working out nicely in Kittilä. Active cooperation and transparent communications make it easier for the municipality’s two cornerstones to operate in the same area, responsibly and sustainably.
The most recent example of cooperation between Agnico Eagle Finland’s Kittilä mine and tourism in the area is the grant fund established by the mine to support the environmental certification of the tourism companies in Kittilä. With this support, the Kittilä mine wanted to help companies in the area through difficult times by supporting the sustainable operation of the companies.
“We had already been planning to support the environmental certification of local companies, together with Visit Levi and Kideve Kittilä Development, but when the coronavirus epidemic escalated and the situation of the companies became more dire, we wanted to get involved in a larger way and on a faster schedule,” explains Tommi Kankkunen, General Manager of the Kittilä mine.
According to Kankkunen, Levi’s tourism and companies in the area are also important for the mine. Levi is a driving force in the area that also increases the attractiveness of the Kittilä mine as a workplace.
“Levi is also a clear source of attraction in our recruitment. It adds to the interest and comfort of the area by offering all the services of a small town. Furthermore, tourism increases the range of jobs in the area, which makes it easier for families and couples to move here,” Kankkunen observes.
The grant fund for local entrepreneurs is just one example of the cooperation between the Kittilä mine and tourism.
“The joined open house event that we organized last summer, together with Visit Levi, Levi Ski Resort and the municipality of Kittilä, is one indication of our effective cooperation. Our dialogue is close and we are constantly developing new forms of cooperation,” says Kankkunen.
Furthermore, the mine supports the hobbies and sports activities of local children and young people, in particular, and cooperates with such events as World Cup Levi and the Visma Ski Classics competition.
Yrjötapio Kivisaari, CEO of Visit Levi, also finds the coexistence of the mine and tourism to be smooth, which is also facilitated by the fact that the mine is not located in the immediate vicinity of the tourist center.
“The mine employs a significant number of people in Lapland who constantly use the services in the area. As a result, services can also be better offered to tourists all year round.”
Responsibility guides the operation of the mine
Agnico Eagle’s operations are guided by the principles of sustainable development, which emphasize the responsibility for environmental protection and communities, in addition to the safety, health and well-being of employees.
Last year, the Kittilä mine reached the lowest figure in its history in terms of workplace accidents, and the figure has been even lower during the early part of this year.
The mine constantly strives to develop the skills of its personnel and assists in the planning of career paths. At the mine, a decision was made to realize the additional hours related to the Competitiveness Pact as training days focused on occupational well-being, which dealt with everyday life management, among other things.
“We strongly support the exercise and recreational activities of our employees in other ways as well, for which we have received good feedback,” Kankkunen says.
Significant investments have been made in environmental protection at the Kittilä mine in Lapland in recent years. In 2017–2021, the Kittilä mine will invest a total of approximately 70 million euros in energy efficiency, water treatment and tailings management. In addition to this, the mine has acted as a test environment for electric mining machinery as part of the EU-funded SIMS project.
“As a part of the sustainable development investment projects, a new water treatment plant was completed for the mine a few years ago, which significantly reduced our sulfate emissions. In addition to this, we are currently piloting various nitrogen removal solutions at our plants with the aim of further reducing our emissions,” Kankkunen says.
Active and open cooperation
The Agnico Eagle gold mine also maintains an active dialogue with other local operators. The cooperation group that meets regularly includes representatives from the municipality of Kittilä, Kittilän Luonto ry, Lapland Education Centre REDU, the entrepreneurs of Kittilä, the parish, the Kuivasalmi reindeer herding cooperative and the village associations and residents of the surrounding area.
“The cooperation group has about 25 members, and all the main interest groups in the region are represented. We strive to be open and transparent in all our communications at the mine,” Kankkunen says.
In recognition of their active and open cooperation with the operators in the region, the Regional Council of Lapland awarded the Kittilä mine the Regional Developer of Lapland award last year.
Katariina Palola, Director of Economic Development at the municipality of Kittilä, estimates that the opening of the mine has had a large multiplier effect on the well-being of the municipality. The population has risen by five hundred, the turnover of companies has tripled and the municipality’s tax revenue has doubled since 2006, when the decision to build the mine was made.
“The mine has brought plenty of new jobs and businesses and has increased the purchasing power of households. The municipality has also been able to invest in services with the increased tax revenue. From the very beginning, the mine has taken the community and municipality into account by sharing information about its activities openly and by cooperating with various industries.”
A major employer in Lapland
At present, the Kittilä gold mine extracts approximately 1.6 million tons of ore per year. The ore yields about 6,000 kilograms of gold per year, which makes the Kittilä mine the largest gold mine in Europe in terms of its production volume. The expansion of the mineral-processing plant to be completed by the end of the year will increase the annual production capacity to about two million tons of ore, with the goal of increasing gold production by about one fourth.
As a new landmark, a 94-meter-high lifting tower has been erected at the mine, under which there will be a lifting shaft reaching a depth of more than one kilometer. Once completed, the mine shaft will significantly reduce the mine’s carbon footprint, as the ore will be brought to the surface without heavy rubber-wheeled traffic.
“As a whole, this is an expansion and infrastructure project of 250 million euros that will increase the mine’s annual gold production capacity and enable the economical exploitation of the deeper parts of the mine, thus giving us a longer operating life,” Kankkunen says.
The Kittilä gold mine currently provides employment for about 1,300 people, five hundred of whom are employed by the mining company and eight hundred by subcontractors. Of our own employees, 90 percent are from Lapland and half from Kittilä. The Kittilä mine invests in training in the industry by granting donations to educational institutions in Northern Finland that provide studies in mining.
The Kittilä mine in Lapland is the longest-lasting of Agnico Eagle’s mines, and it has been estimated that it will operate until the mid-2030s.