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West Coast gold mine false economy

22 May 2001

West Coast gold mine false economy - Greens

The Green Party is urging the Labour-Alliance Government to turn down a permit for access to a proposed open-cast gold mine involving the clearance of 260 hectares of indigenous forests on the West Coast, saying the environmental risks are too great.

The proposed site for GRD Macrae's mine is in the North Westland wildlife corridor of the Victoria Conservation Park near Reefton. It is an area of high rainfall and seismic instability which would make the mine's 75 hectares of tailings dams an unacceptable risk to adjoining ecosystems and local rivers.

"Where does the government stand on this mine?" asked Green co-Leader Rod Donald.

"On the one hand we have acting PM Jim Anderton saying he likes the idea of gold and would like more of it. On the other hand Conservation Minister Sandra Lee has a statutory duty to consider the long-term future of the region and the potential impact of such a mine on the ecology and conservation value of the area.

"And when is the Government going to fix the law allowing mining? Labour's election policy was to bring mining in the Conservation estate under the rules for all other concessions and the Alliance's policy is to stop mining on the Conservation estate," he said.

Mr Donald said if the access application was granted and there was any subsidence or instability in the tailings dam - as has occurred in the Golden Cross Mine near Waihi - the Inanguhua and Buller rivers would be at risk from serious contamination from a range of heavy metals.

"Today the Minister of Conservation was not able to answer whether the Crown has estimated the potential costs of managing in perpetuity the tailing dams at the proposed mine once it closes or the company ceases to function. We would ask the Government to take this issue extremely seriously given the $20 million which is already being spent on trying to stabilise the Golden Cross Mine at Waitekauri."

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment published a report on the risks from large tailings dams in August 1997. It showed a very poor rate of dams overseas maintaining the integrity needed for the many decades needed to keep their toxic contents contained.

"Allowing a massive toxic waste site to be imposed on conservation land would also be contrary to the Government's December 2000 report 'Towards a Waste Minimisation Strategy' which seeks the 'protection of the environment and human health from the harmful effects of waste' and aims for 'a society committed to waste minimisation'.

"The challenge for this Government is to provide real, long term jobs which protect the ecosystems and the environmental integrity of valuable natural areas, not jobs which are environmentally risky and unsustainable," Rod Donald said.


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