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Fast Tracking Gold Mine Environmentally Negligent

Fast Tracking Gold Mine Is Environmentally Negligent

The Department of Conservation’s plans to fast-track GDR Macraes’ access application for its proposed Reefton gold mine are environmentally negligent, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

“The mine would create a huge and permanent toxic waste dump on conservation land in the Victoria Forest Park. Subsidence or fractures in the tailings impoundments and release of contaminated tailings into the Inangahua and Buller River systems would be a major ecological disaster,” Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

A burst tailings dam near Spain’s Guadalquivir River in 1996 caused serious damage to the Donana National Park and thousands of hectares of farmland in southern Spain. The collapse of a dam at a Romanian gold mine in 2000 killed fish throughout the Danube River system.

“Instead of proceeding in haste and later wringing its hands, DoC should seriously consider the implications for the Inangahua and Buller River systems of on-going contamination from mine discharges and the real risks of subsidence and/or failure of the tailings dams,” she said. “The mine is proposed in a seismically active area with a high rainfall.”

“Mine discharges will be contaminated with arsenic, antimony, sulphate, lead and copper. An independent audit of the company’s environmental assessment identified major information gaps in water quality information. West Coast Councils, blinded by the company’s claims of jobs, ignored this in their decisions on the resource consent applications,” Ms Sage said.

“Granting the company access to conservation land would create a permanent hazardous waste site and a disaster in waiting. The Crown would be responsible for this after mining ends, or before then if the company has financial problems.

“The proposed pit and tailings impoundment at the Reefton site have doubled in size and the waste rock stacks have tripled in size compared to the1994 access application, agreed to by then Conservation Minister, Denis Marshall. The proposed mine area has increased from 145 ha to 260 ha. The proposed pit is now 46 ha compared to 17 ha in 1994; waste rock stacks are now 152 ha compared to 50 ha in 1994; and the tailings impoundment is 36 ha compared to 16 ha in 1994.

“This would significantly increase the mine’s impacts on the North Westland Wildlife Corridor, on Devils Creek and the Inangahua and Buller River systems and the risks such a large toxic tip creates for wildlife and present and future generations,” Ms Sage said.

“By buckling to company pressure and fast-tracking the application, DoC is failing to implement its statutory responsibilities and ensure that the mine’s impacts are properly investigated,” she said.

“GDR Macraes is likely to be delighted that the Department’s hasty processing of the application will help ensure that the mine’s impacts continue to be under-stated.

“The proposed Reefton mine is contrary to several goals in Government’s December 2000 “Towards a Waste Minimisation Strategy” including “protection of the environment & human health from the harmful effects of waste” ; and “a society committed to waste minimisation”.

“ The mine is contrary to Alliance and Labour election policy commitments.”
Contact: Eugenie Sage: ph 03 3666 317 (wk) or 03 3371 251 (hme)

Background notes

1. The resource consents for the proposed mine have a 30 year term . West Coast Councils have only required a bond on $8 million with provision for this to be increased to $20 million. The bond lapses 10 years after the consents expire or are surrendered by the company.
2. The 1999 Alliance election conservation policy provided that:
“Amendments to the Crown Minerals Act will be pursued to ensure that areas of particular ecological importance, such as National Parks, conservation parks, wilderness and World Heritage areas, reserves, ecological areas, water supply catchments and the coastal marine area will be closed to mining.”
Similarly, Labour’s 1999 election conservation policy recognised the inconsistency between mining activities and other activities on conservation land. Labour promised to:
“Ensure that the Conservation Act 1987 and Crown Minerals Act 1991 provide adequate protection from mining activities for areas of significant conservation value; amend the Crown Minerals Act 1991 to establish an appropriate process for consideration of prospecting, exploration and mining applications on conservation land not covered by mineral activity ban, as occurs with other commercial activities such as tourism and recreational activity.”

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