Solomon Islands Government pushes for controversial Gold Ridge mine to reopen

The mine, on Guadalcanal, is about 40 kilometres from the Solomon Islands' capital, Honiara. (Concrete Evidence, file)

The mine, on Guadalcanal, is about 40 kilometres from the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara. (Concrete Evidence, file)

Richard Ewart, Bindi Bryce | ABC News | 31 January 2017

The Solomon Islands Government says it is planning to reopen the gold mine that was sold to local landowners by an Australian miner in 2015 for $100.

Key points:

  • The only gold mine in Solomon Islands has been closed since 2014 amid environmental concerns
  • Gold Ridge mine is owned by a local landholder group which supports its rehabilitation
  • A Chinese property investment company says it has invested in the mine

Mining company St Barbara controversially sold its legal liability in the mine to local landowner company Goldridge Community Investment.

The Solomon Islands Government said it was now negotiating with landowners and an investor — Australian-based Chinese property developer AXF Group.

A statement on the company’s website said AXF had partnered with Goldridge Community Investment, “and aims to repair, refurbish and upgrade the Gold Ridge plant to bring it back into operation”.

The mine on central Guadalcanal, south-east of the capital Honiara, was closed after severe flooding in 2014.

Since then, there have been constant concerns over the risk posed to public safety by the threat of toxic water overflowing from the tailings dam.

Shortly after St Barbara sold the mine, the Solomon Islands Government declared it a disaster area when a tropical cyclone filled the dam to capacity.

In 2016, after an “uncontrolled release” of untreated water from the mine’s tailings dam, Solomon Islands health authorities warned villagers living downstream not to use river water because it could be contaminated by arsenic.

Plans to reopen ‘as soon as practically possible’

PHOTO: Gold Ridge gold mine in Solomon Islands has had a chequered history.

Gold Ridge gold mine in Solomon Islands has had a chequered history.

The Government said in a statement it now hoped the mine would be reopened “as soon as is practically possible”.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s chief of staff, Robson Djokovic, told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program there were still risks associated with the mine reopening, but they were being addressed.

“There are procedures and systems that have been developed … to ensure the highest standards of safety are met to avoid any potential hazards or risks,” Mr Djokovic said.

“Of course, not everybody is going to agree. We understand the reality of those who might object.

“But the Government is ensuring that thorough consultation is being carried out and we are listening to the various stakeholders, particularly those that are located in the area of the mine site.”

PHOTO: Mothers wash their children in a river bed near the Gold Ridge mine. (Reuters: James Regan, file)

Mothers wash their children in a river bed near the Gold Ridge mine. (Reuters: James Regan, file)

The chairman of the landowner company, Walton Naezon, said local landholders did not oppose the Government’s push to reopen the mine.

But he told Pacific Beat it would take time.

“We’re trying to restructure and rehabilitate an old mine which has gone, run down almost 100 per cent,” he said.

“We are going to look at all the aspects of environment issues [and] we are going to make sure that our foreign partners are listening to us.

“We want to do everything right according to law. We must make sure everyone likes the operation and the benefits of the operation.”


1 Comment

Filed under Mine construction, Solomon Islands

One response to “Solomon Islands Government pushes for controversial Gold Ridge mine to reopen

  1. Let us be reminded as to why the Australian mining company St Barbara sold their environmental disaster for $100 bucks for the Gold Ridge Mine to those in the Solomon Islands….
    Nice photos of the mothers washing their children in the riverbed. Has Richard Ewart or Bindi Bryce from the ABC News found out if the mothers and children are still surviving? Or if they remain alive, what skin disorders they now have?
    Let us be reminded… (8 April 2016, SBS reporter Stefan Armbruster)

    Scientists and villagers fear an environmental disaster is looming.

    “We are panicking, honestly we are panicking, we don’t know what is happening. Woman, pikinini, everyone of us (is) upset,” downstream community leader John Keara told SBS World News.

    “The government didn’t do anything for us. They ignore it, they ignore us. Now we become victims already.”

    Tens of millions of litres of water escaped from the dam, that contains arsenic and cyanide and heavy metals in its sediment.

    “At the moment there’s really no way to stop the spill way. The spillway was put in to relieve pressure and reduce the risk (of a dam collapse),” said Dr Gavin Mudd, an environmental engineer from Monash University.

    “That’s the way it’s supposed to work but the issue though is it’s not the end scenario you want, untreated tailings water getting out into the environment.

    “There is an arsenic issue in the water with processing ore, it comes from the gold ore. Other heavy metals include selenium, mercury is often a very important one, and range of other heavy metals like copper and zinc.

    “We need to make sure we are monitoring all of those downstream.”

    Are those women and children still alive?

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