Arsenic levels still high in Solomon mine
Solomons government concerned with gold mine, tailings dam, as rainy season approaches.
Arsenic levels in the tailings dam of the Gold Ridge gold mine in Solomon Islands have authorities concerned as the country enters the monsoon season.
The gold mine which was abandoned by its Australian owners, St Barbara, after flooding in April is supposed to be sold to the Solomon Islands government.
But the Special Secretary to the Prime Minister and lead negotiator on the government side, Phillip Tagini, says negotiations are on hold and the focus now is on securing the tailings dam hazard before the rainy season starts.
He spoke with Koroi Hawkins about ongoing efforts to secure the mine.
PHILLIP TAGINI: SIG [Solomon Islands Government] had a meeting with St Barbara and their..., the manager for GRML [Gold Ridge Mining Ltd] and the CEO for St Barbara, we had a meeting in Brisbane two weeks ago and there's general agreement towards dealing with the tailings dam and the water in the tailings dam as the matter of priority before addressing any other matters pertaining to the future of the mine. So at this point in time both parties are looking at the best ways to, reduce the risk of the tailings dam and there is already a program in place to try and do that.
KOROI HAWKINS: What is the risk? What is this issue with the tailings dam?
PT: IT's basically the volume of water in the dam, we don't want the water to get beyond the level which is safe for the dam to hold and without removing some of the water that is a possibility during the rainy season which is November, December, January. And so a is the risk of the untreated water in the dam being discharged as a result of heavy rainfall and so the proposal at the moment is to see if there is a possibility of removing some of the water. So that it's at a safe level even during the rainy season.
KH: And you say there is a program of some sort in place? What is, what is that?
PT: Yes there is good progress, there is a plan in place which both the GRML and SIG had agreed upon that is basically to try and dewater some of the water, untreated basically. So that will depend on the quality of water, that will depend a great deal on communication and consultation with land owning groups. So both the government and GRML have this plan and that will depend on the awareness and the consent of the people living downstream and in the communities.
KH: You are basically saying you are going to pump out some of the water?
PT: That is correct, so some of the water will be pumped out either using pumps or syphoning from the top, top column and using gravitational force to remove some of the water.
KH: And you mentioned it was untreated water is that a problem is that a danger?
PT: Basically from the studies that both GRML and passed through some of our advisors, there's two chemical components of the water which are of concern. And the cyanide, that's the first one and according to the tests that GRML has undertaken that has dropped to a level that is far below the drinking water standard which is a very level, high standard. But arsenic is the one that is still a bit high and is of concern. And so the issue is, removing some of the water containing that and seeing whether that could be diluted to a level which is acceptable to the communities and the government. At this point in time according to the studies they say that the dilution effect will be able to reduce the level of arsenic to a level that is acceptable in the environment.
KH: Another part of this discussion is the security. And I understand there were some concerns about security and the government reassured that security was sort of in place and then the company was saying it was still not safe for it to sort of operate, what is the security situation now?
PT: In terms of security we have two parts of the property that require immediate security. One is for the bridge, the government is reconstructing the bridge to allow for a certain quantity of cyanide on site to be removed safely. And for that project, that part of the plan, RSIP had already indicated that they will provide security for the movement of those hazardous material. And secondly if there's any removal of water the police have also been informed about the need to have a bit of police presence there. But fundamentally all this will depend on acceptance in the community once you get passed the community it makes it a lot more easier.
KH: And is there a time frame? Do you anticipate this being a long term sort of a thing or in the next couple of weeks or months.
PT: Well as you know we, the rain doesn't wait for anybody and so preferrably we want all the consultations and all the agreements done by the, as soon as possible so maybe within two or three weeks. It's also the election time so you know, we are facing the challenge. But the plan for de-watering is about ten weeks or twelve weeks. So that's about three months to slowly remove the water from the dam. But that of course depends a lot on the consultation that's going to occur in the next two or three weeks. So a lot of things depend on community acceptance of these proposals.
KH: And finally the other negotiations in terms of government taking on ownership or purchasing the mine along with it's considerable probably liabilities. How is, how are those negotiations going?
PT: Both parties have agreed that they will pick up that issue, that discussion after a new government is set in place. So both parties are happy to have that conversation deferred until that time.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: