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.
- 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’
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.”
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.”