Solomons mine tailings threat leads to squabble
The Solomon Islands Government and an Australian miner are at loggerheads over how to restore a tailings storage facility ahead of the wet season.
Solomon Islands says the onus is on Australian mine operator, St Barbara, to sort out any threat should the Gold Ridge tailings dam burst.
Gold Ridge has been inactive since flooding on Guadalcanal in April but there have been negotiations on a possible sale and two months ago the Prime Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, announced the Government was interested in buying it.
Don Wiseman looks at the latest developments:
The company says there is a threat posed by the tailings storage facility if a spillway is not created to cope with the demands of the coming wet season. The special secretary to the prime minister, Philip Tagini, says St Barbara's claims that poor security and ongoing vandalism of the site do not stack up.
PHILIP TAGINI: The Government is willing - it has now put in place the police force, the riot squad, up at the mine site and that should protect the plant, and it is willing to provide further security at the tailings dam to allow for St Barbara to either do it directly or to get a contractor to do that. And those are the conversations we are having now. The Government is not in the business of running mines so it cannot be expected to get mining equipment and mining engineers and to organise those. That is something within the capacity of a mining company.
But the chief executive of St Barbara, Bob Vassie, says the company, which sent staff back in in June to try and sort out problems with the tailings dam, was then two months later forced to withdraw them because of security problems.
BOB VASSIE: When we did that the site was overrun and unfortunately all the pumping equipment and water treatment equipment and even the equipment that was excavating the spillway was vandalised and damaged, irreparably unfortunately. That was pretty sad. Now the security situation, threats, are ongoing. The police are on site there and that is helpful but it is still not a situation that we can get back in there. So one thing is for sure, the rain is coming and that is why we are really trying to engage and are engaged in discussing with the Government a solution - a short term solution to those water levels.
Philip Tagini claims the company is angling for a commitment from the Solomons government to share some of the mine's liabilities if a sale goes ahead.
PHILIP TAGINI: We are willing to have the conversation about the future of the mine but we want to get the environmental issues sorted before that conversation actually is formulated to something that can be agreed upon.
But Bob Vassie rejects this. He says security remains unsatisfactory and vandalism of their equipment is continuing, with incidents happening this week. And Mr Vassie says roading access also needs government input and it has to sort out environmental approvals.
BOB VASSIE: We can't doing anything of the nature we are looking at without the approval of the Government, in terms of environmental approvals. And those environmental approvals have to involve the local communities - clearly that is the case. Now we are not in a position to just do what we like there.
Bob Vassie says St Barbara has made a significant commitment in terms of money and time to try and solve the problem but he says they cannot get their people back on the ground at Gold Ridge without greater help from the Solomons Government. He says it would probably take 30 to 40 days of work using local contractors.
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