Monthly Archives: December 2010

Ramu mine faces another setback

By JAYNE SAFIHAO

THE Ramu nickel mine project may be further slowed down due to a new twist of events in the few days before Christmas.

Jailed chairman of the Kurumbukari Landowners Association, David Tigavu and his successor, Eddie Itarai, who was voted in last Thursday, have decided that two major issues surrounding KBK landowners would be temporary halted.

One of them is the relocation exercise for landowners of the Kurumbukari mine site to their newly constructed homes.

The 30 houses, since their completion nearly one and a half years ago, have not yet been occupied. A relocation exercise scheduled before Christmas had to be postponed till sometime next year.

This would mean settlers currently in the Special Mining Lease (SML) 8, Palai area, would  remain there while any further works by the company would be halted.

Itarai also stressed that the memorandum of agreement review, which is outstanding, would be halted until Tigavu had completed his term.

Tigavu was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment on the 17th on three counts of contempt charges laid against him in October.
The incident which sparked the contempt proceedings happened on Sept 23 where lawyers and plaintiffs fighting over the deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) dumping at Basamuk in Rai Coast.

Tigavu threatened and incited physical violence against and between parties to ongoing court proceedings, threatened and abused lawyers who were involved in those court proceedings and threatened and abused persons who were witness in those court proceedings.

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Ramu mine cheerleader sent to jail for 12 months

David Tigavu, Chairman of the Kurumbukari Landowner Association, and one of the most vocal supporters of the Ramu nickel mine in Madang, has been sentenced to 12 months jail after being convicted on three counts of contempt of court.

The charges related to threats made by Tigavu in September against the landowner plaintiffs and their lawyers in the on-going dispute over the Ramu mine’s marine waste dumping plans

Tigavu was found guilty of threatening and inciting violence against parties to on-going court proceedings; threatening and abusing lawyers involved in the proceedings; and, threatening and abusing persons who may be witnesses.

Tigavu’s jailing could have a major impact on the commissioning of the Ramu nickel mine as he is the leading figure among the clans from the mine site.

The mining company, Ramu NiCo and two of its employees are also facing contempt charges over threats to the plaintiff’s. Their case will be heard in February.

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DEC failing to regulate the mining industry says Basil

MP Sam Basil has criticized the Department of Conservation (DEC) for failing to regulate the mining industry in Papua New Guinea and ensure mine operations are environmentally safe.

Sam Basil has filed a legal case over the pollution of the Watut by the Hidden Valley mine

“DEC has a responsibility on behalf of the Nation to ensure mining operations are safe and will not damage the environment. Yet time after time the mines end up causing massive problems while DEC sits by and watches”.

“We have already had massive pollution from Bougainville, Ok Tedi, Tolukuma and Porgera mines and sadly now it is the same with the Hidden Valley project. The PNG Government through DEC is telling the world that mining with pollution is normal in PNG and the people must accept that fact”.

Mr Basil has recently filed legal proceedings against the Hidden Valley mine in his constituency over its pollution of the Watut river.

“It is not good enough for Minister Benny Allen to say DEC  received an environmental audit report on the Hidden Valley mine in May this year and will be working on an environmental improvement plan”.

“Where is the report? Why have I not been given a copy? Why don’t the landowners who are suffering the impacts of the pollution have a copy?  Is DEC trying to cover up things for the mining company? The report  should be released immediately”.

“If the Minister’s sponsored report audit says the river is safe then I will invite the minister to Watut River to consume a litre of Watut River to prove to me that the rivers is safe”.

Mr Basil says DEC should also explain why it gave the Hidden Valley mine an environmental permit in the first place and how it is the company was able to pollute the Watut river without DEC noticing anything was wrong.

“DEC, like MRA, is supposed to be protecting landowners and our environment, not facilitating mining on the cheap”.

Mr Basil says he has instructed his lawyers to look into whether DEC and the Minister could be legally held liable for the damage the mine has caused.

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Ramu mine supporter convicted of contempt of court

David Tigavu, Chairman of the Kurumbukari Landowner Association, and one of the main supporters of the Ramu nickel mine in Madang, has been convicted by the National court on three counts of contempt.

The charges related to threats and incitement to violence by Tigavu outside the Madang courthouse against the landowner plaintiffs and their lawyers in the on-going dispute over the Ramu mine’s marine waste dumping plans.

Tigavu was found guilty of threatening and inciting violence against parties to on-going court proceedings; threatening and abusing lawyers involved in the proceedings; and, threatening and abusing persons who may be witnesses.

Tigavu was found not-guilty on a fourth charge of questioning the integrity and impartiality of the judge, although it was found he had described the judge as sympathetic to the plaintiffs which was not complimentary and had negative connotations.

The judge found Tigavu behaved in an angry and aggressive manner and threatened and incited physical violence which was likely to interfere with the administration of justice and had a real potential to stop parties, lawyers and witnesses putting their case and giving evidence freely.

Tigavu is from the area of the mine site, 135km away from the coast where the mine waste will be dumped into the sea. In his evidence to the court Tigavu admitted that his clan, being from the mine site, has nothing to do with the marine waste dumping issue, which he described as a coastal matter, or with the legal case.

Tigavu also said his people displaced by the mine construction have been living in makeshift shelters and feeding on rice and tinned fish for two years while they wait for proper relocation. He said people have no proper source of clean water and are getting sick as a result. He also said a health centre and school have not yet been built and the road network to the villages is only half complete. Tigavu claimed these hardships were being caused by the legal challenge by the coastal people to the marine dumping plans.

Read the full verdict.

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Basil: Hidden Valley litigation has not been withdrawn

Member of Parliament, Sam Basil, says a statement issued by the Hidden Valley mine on 16 December, claiming he has withdrawn legal proceedings over the pollution of the Watut river is untrue.

“I have not withdrawn the legal proceedings on behalf of 110 landowners who have been seriously impacted by the pollution of the Watut river by sediment and heavy metals from the Hidden Valley mine”.

“For the Hidden Valley mine to claim that I had made an announcement to that effect is incorrect”.

Mr Basil says he has been in dialogue with the mining company, Morobe Mining Joint Venture (MMJV) and representatives of its owners, Harmony Gold and Newcrest Mining, in an attempt to find a satisfactory resolution of the issues without having to go through lengthy and expensive court proceedings.

“To that end I have agreed not to take any further steps with the litigation until my lawyers and scientists meet with the mine owners in January. But I have not, and I repeat have not, withdrawn the proceedings”.

“I am also very disappointed that MMJV have not issued a further media release, as requested by my lawyers, correcting the public record”.

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Wissink’s claims about Hidden Valley mine quite absurd

Hidden Valley mine General Manager, David Wissink, has gone on the record with the almost Orwellian claim that his mine “places a high value on responsible environmental stewardship”.

David Wissink

Really Mr Wissink?

If your mine and its owners, Newcrest and Harmony Gold, place a high value on responsible environmental stewardship why is the Watut river suffering from sedimentation and toxic pollution problems?

Did you ensure the construction of stable waste dumps using fresh rock during the mine construction as promised in your Environmental Plan?

When you had to remove higher levels of overburden than had been expected did you ensure it was properly and safely stored before carrying on?

Is it true you failed to construct the two retaining dams promised in your Environmental Plan to stop runoff into the river system?

Come on Mr Wissink, haven’t the landowners got it right when they say “your attitude was to get into production as soon as possible to contain costs rather than remedying the dumping and erosion problems”?

No-one, just no-one, is going to be fooled by fancy rhetoric, Mr Wissink, while the evidence is clear that the mine has caused serious environmental problems.

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Embarrassingly low turnout for DEC forum

There was an embarrassingly low turnout for the Department of Conservation’s expensive Public Forum on marine dumping of mine waste in Madang on Wednesday.

This newspaper advert failed to attract an audience

Only 9 members of the public were present to hear a presentation from the Scottish Association of Marine Scientists who were commissioned in 2007 to do a study on marine waste dumping in PNG.

The public attendees were outnumbered four to one by DEC and MRA officers, Ramu nickel mine staff and Provincial government employees.

A request by journalists to film the presentation, so it could be shared with others unable to attend the Forum, was refused by DEC and the Scottish scientists.

While the whole meeting was something of a farce, it does again raise some important questions:

  1. Why did the PNG government only instigate an independent review of marine dumping 7 years AFTER approving the Ramu nickel mine waste dumping?
  2. Why is the PNG government wasting public money on Forums for expensive foreign scientists to speak to 7 or 8 members of the public?
  3. Why was the Forum organized in a University auditorium AFTER the academic year had ended and students gone home and why were all the university staff unaware of the meeting?
  4. Why would DEC and the scientists refuse to be filmed? Surely they weren’t saying anything that was untrue?

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Beware the mining company offering a committee

A cautionary tale for landowners living along the Watut river

As landowners along the Watut river struggle to come to terms with the destruction of their waterway by pollution from the Hidden Valley mine it is poignant  to remember how the Porgera mine dealt with a similar situation by sucking civil society into years of fruitless dialogue while the pollution continued unabated and the miners continued to ship their profits offshore.

The Porgera gold mine, which began production in 1990, has caused massive pollution problems along the Strickland river. Although the mine owners spent many years denying any problems a report by the Mineral Policy Institute and an SBS documentary in 1995 showed how the river was regularly turning to crimson as a result of pollution by iron-cyanide complexes from the mine.

Facing even greater problems at its Marcopper mine in the Philippines, Placer Dome, the major owner of the Porgera mine, went on the offensive and declared it wanted to be a global leader in ‘sustainable mining’.

To this end Placer commissioned a major study of the Strickland river – a study which confirmed the mine’s impact on the river was significant and environmental management inadequate.

Despite its public posturing about ‘responsible mining’ and wanting to become a ‘global leader’ Placer had no intention of stopping production at the Porgera mine or ceasing to dump the mine tailings into the Strickland river – but it needed to create the impression that change was occurring otherwise it would loose its social licence.

The answer to this dilemma was the Porgera Environment Advisory Komiti (PEAK) which Placer established as a ‘stakeholder monitoring committee’ to ‘improve openness, review environmental issues and oversee implementation of any recommendations’.

While PEAK gave Placer exactly what it wanted – a good news story and the impression that something was about to change – the reality is PEAK failed to catalyze and oversee any meaningful change in waste management at the Porgera mine.

Why did PEAK fail the people of the Strickland river and how did it allow Placer to continue its pollution?

Well, firstly the committee had a rapid succession of NGO representatives and scientists, few of whom gained a thorough understanding of the issues or had the presence and drive to push for change through the committee.

Secondly, committee members from large international NGOs, like WWF, had their own agenda that relied upon painting Placer in a good light so other mining companies could be convinced to engage in industry-wide reform.

But overall, most of the players passing through PEAK simply had a shallow understanding of the whole issue and were certainly not enlightened by the snippets of information coming their way.

Thus Placer was able to manipulate the committee to ensure that most of the recommendations in its independent scientific report, which could have been implemented within a year, if not sooner, were still unimplemented 5 years later.

Meanwhile, through the use of PEAK in its glossy annual reports and sustainability documents, Placer skillfully managed to acquire green credentials while continuing with business as usual at the Porgera site.

This manipulation culminated in 1999 when Placer Dome was listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for its ‘corporate sustainability performance’.

As one commentator noted in 2000;

Placer Dome effectively used the PEAK committee to buffer themselves from criticism while continuing to deny the possibility of environmental and social impacts arising from their practices. This strategy was fortified by the commissioning of a series of inconclusive and unimpressive reports that have been drawn out over an excessive timeframe.  If the present trend continues Placer will continue to claim until the mine closes that they have no impact on the river system, hence have no obligationto the people of the Strickland River system

Landowners along the Watut river and their MP, Sam Basil, would do well to take note of the Porgera experience and beware the mining company offering a consultative committee.

They should also remember that encouraging landowners to sign blank statutory declarations, as Harmony Gold and Newcrest Mining, owners of the Hidden Valley mine have being doing along the Watut, is another tactic used by Placer and, before them, BHP at its infamous Ok Tedi mine.

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PNG MP feels deceived by Harmony Gold and Newcrest

MP Sam Basil feels "totally deceived"

Papua New Guinea MP Sam Basil says he feels “totally deceived” by the conduct of mining companies Harmony Gold and Newcrest Mining. The companies jointly own the Hidden Valley mine in his electorate.

“I am disgusted by the[ir] two-faced behaviour “ says Mr Basil.

The MP had been trying to negotiate with the mining companies over their pollution of the Watut river and last week the miners made a joint statement with Mr Basil announcing an expert technical advisory panel to review the sediment and pollution issues affecting the Watut river.

In return, Mr Basil says, he agreed to delay issuing legal proceedings to see if the issues could be settled co-operatively without involving the courts.

But, in breach of that agreement, Mr Basil says Hidden Valley has been attempting to buy off the potential plaintiffs with single payments of K1,200 compensation.

“I feel completely deceived”, says Mr Basil. “I have tried to negotiate in good-faith with the mining company even though they have been covering up the pollution problem for over a year”

“As a result of the discussions I thought we had established a clear road-map to resolve the pollution issues and I was prepared to trust their word. Instead the miners have gone behind my back and tried to buy-off the landowners”.

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Landowners allege Hidden Valley mine owners were negligent

Landowners along the Watut river in Papua New Guinea are suing the Hidden Valley mine for its “negligent” pollution of their waterway with heavy metals and acid forming rock.

The Hidden Valley mine

The Hidden Valley mine is jointly owned by Newcrest Mining from Australia and Harmony Gold of South Africa.

The landowners say the two companies were fully aware of the problems that have caused the pollution and could have prevented it if they were not so determined to get into production as soon as possible.

The landowners say that according to the mine Environmental Plan, the mine was to construct stable waste dumps using fresh rock, but when sufficient rock could not be sourced on site, rather than delaying construction and importing suitable material the mine just carried on regardless, knowing the waste dump facilities would not be stable.

This failure was then compounded when greater than expected amounts of overburden had to be removed to get access to the gold ore. This meant much more waste rock and overburden, which was contaminated with heavy metals, iron pyrites  and other acid forming compounds, had to be stored on site.

Again, instead of delaying construction and the start of production so the waste dumps could be properly constructed and then expanded to take the additional material, the landowners say the mine company carried on regardless.

Unsurprisingly, indeed predictably, the inadequately constructed and overloaded waste facilities failed on several occasions, leading to massive amounts of waste rock and overburden escaping into the Watut river.

To make matters even worse, the landowners say the mine failed to construct two promised retaining dams as also set out in its environmental plan. This exacerbated the sedimentation problems even further as there was nothing to stop run-off caused by heavy rainfall entering the river system.

The landowners say they rely on the river for water for their livelihoods, for alluvial gold, for washing, drinking, cooking, irrigation, and cleaning, for fish and crustaceans for protein, for plant life for eating, for transportation, for its aesthetic value, for traditional agricultural practices and for cultural needs.

But despite knowing the importance of the river to the landowners and the implications of not constructing the waste dumps correctly and removing massive amounts of overburden, the landowners claim “the defendants attitude was to get into production as soon as possible to contain costs rather than remedying the dumping and erosion problems”.

As a result of the heavy sedimentation in the river and the contamination with heavy metals and acid forming rocks, the landowners say there have been “gross impacts on the Watut river system”.

These impacts include: a massive build up of sediment causing pollution; dieback of vegetation throughout the river system; acid forming compounds entering the river and causing damage to all life in the river including plant life, fish and crustaceans and humans; changes in the course of the river; the death of fish and prawns; widespread destruction of benthic macroinvertebrate communities;  severe aquatic habitat degradation;  deprivation of the Watut River water for bathing, washing, cooking or drinking;  deprivation of access to alluvial gold; skin diseases and sores; loss of transport on the river; loss of houses and village areas; loss of gardens and cash crops; and loss of the ability to use gardens in the future

The Hidden Valley mine began operations in 2009 and reached commercial levels production in May 2010, once the overburden had been removed. Ore was initially stockpiled until the processing plant was commissioned in September this year.

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