Landowner pays $100 for troubled Solomon Islands mine from Australian miner

“Saint Barbara has off-loaded its responsibility for the potentially catastrophic consequences of failure of the tailings dam”

Production at the Gold Ridge mine in Solomon Islands has been suspended since there was flooding in April last year. (Concrete Evidence)

Production at the Gold Ridge mine in Solomon Islands has been suspended since there was flooding in April last year. (Concrete Evidence)

Liam Fox and Jemima Garrett | ABC News

A landowner company in Solomon Islands has bought the troubled Gold Ridge mine for just $100 from Australian gold miner Saint Barbara.

Production at the mine has been suspended since April last year after it was found to have an extremely high level of contaminated water in its tailing dam following flash floods.

The sale of the mine to Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited includes all of the mine’s liabilities and a promise by Saint Barbara to fund the construction of a new water treatment plant.

“The Saint Barbara board made the decision to leave the mine and we negotiated to take over,” the chairman of the landowner company, Walton Naezon, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program.

“A lot of people questioned what experience a local company has with mining.

“You don’t need to know mining to own a company.”

Mr Naezon said the mine’s water issues would be dealt with.

“We have already engaged overseas companies who have been conducting dewatering in the past with Gold Ridge,” he said.

“We got Saint Barbara to agree to meet all the costs of the water treatment plant and costs to deliver it on site.

“So we are confident of doing the dewatering, getting the environment cleaned up and preparing to seal another agreement with another mining company.”

‘Mine’s environmental risks serious’

In handing ownership of the Gold Ridge mine to the landowner company, Saint Barbara has off-loaded its responsibility for the potentially catastrophic consequences of failure of the tailings dam.

The dam is full, but the Government has rejected recommendations from scientists to allow a release of polluted water.

The risks around the potential tailings (dam storage) and collapse are extremely serious.

Monash University environmental engineer, Dr Gavin Mudd, said it was good to see the landowners potentially getting access to long-term benefits.

But he said they also faced big risks and big costs to deal with the threat to their environment.

“The risks around the potential tailings [dam storage] and collapse, for example, are extremely serious,” Dr Mudd said.

“Whether that’s effects on the river and sediment, on water quality and chemistry, [or] risks around people who are able to be notified.”

He said natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, would also pose the new owners a problem.

“[An earthquake] could lead to the risk of a collapsed side wall and therefore the tailings dam failing and the tailings escaping out off site,” Dr Mudd said.

“The other one is rainfall risk … If you’ve got a one-metre gap between the water level and the tailings dam and the top of the wall, then obviously you’re concerned if you’re going to get a cyclone that comes through and dumps half a metre or a metre of rainfall through the area.”

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Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Solomon Islands

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