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12/12 - Impact of Unity Mining's Majors Creek mine needs to be fully tested

Unity Mining's application to modify court-imposed conditions and build on-site processing and a facility using cyanide in Majors Creek should not proceed.

A new Gold Mine has been proposed near the town of Majors Creek. Photo: Andrew Sheargold

A new Gold Mine has been proposed near the town of Majors Creek. Photo: Andrew Sheargold

At a public meeting on November 11, 2014, the Majors Creek community learned that Unity Mining would ignore its promises of the past six years and attempt to modify the conditions imposed by the Land and Environment Court by applying to build an on-site processing facility at the Dargues Reef mine on the edge of town. 

The processing method of choice will be cyanide leaching and a tailings dam storage facility on a steep escarpment at the headwaters of the Eurobodalla water system. In an opinion piece published in The Canberra Times on November 28, Unity Mining chief executive Andrew McIlwain said the mine would "bring significant prosperity at a time when employment opportunities in the region are scarce". 

As with McIlwain's very public assertions that cyanide would not be used at Dargues Reef, his mantra of economic prosperity deserves scrutiny. 

A detailed assessment of the existing economic activity and assets in the Araluen valley has not been completed. Is it not crucial to weigh up the associated economic risks involved with the proposed modifications to the existing approval, against the status quo? 

The Araluen valley has niche market stone fruit orchards, located directly downstream of the mine within eight kilometres of the mine's proposed tailings dam. These orchards, along with cattle production, are the backbone of the rural enterprises along the river. Throughout the valley, full-time and seasonal workers are directly employed with indirect flow-on effects throughout the valley and the Braidwood area in the supply of rural equipment and services. 

Additionally, the valley supports a sustainable "experiential" style tourist industry with easy access to Monga and Deua national parks, state forests and the Araluen Creek and Deua River. Currently, this productive valley and the Deua waterway generate significant income and support an increasing level of employment, which no doubt will be put at risk if the proposed modifications are approved. The orchard owners, farmers, market gardeners, tourism operators, writers and workshops would require a significant level of compensation if the mine activity resulted in pollution or reduced water availability, hindering or possibly putting an end to their incomes.

Look at it in these terms. One breach of the tailings dam could potentially close the mine indefinitely and impact every business down the length of the waterway below. 

Who will be accountable for revenue losses if this occurred? From October to April, the Deua catchment provides about 60 per cent of drinking water to a standing population of 40,000 and a combined resident/holiday maker population of about 120,000. For the remainder of the year — again, to a mix of residents and holidaymakers — it provides 100 per cent of the drinking water. The Tuross River is the other major source of water for the shire. 

The proposed cyanide plant and smelter is at the headwaters of the South Coast's water system which is upstream from two conservation reserves, home to more than 20 endangered, vulnerable or critically endangered species, is a vital migratory corridor and the only safe permanent water for countless local species. The residents of Majors Creek, Jembaicumbene, Araluen, Braidwood and Moruya who oppose these proposed changes believe Unity Mining is prepared to compromise the welfare of these local communities and environment for the sake of profit. All this is brought about by lower international gold prices. Is this fair and just? No it isn't. 

The proposed modifications to the development threaten far more local jobs and income than Unity claims it will provide.

In the first six months of its operation, Unity Mining was prosecuted and fined for three environmental breaches. Big Island Mining Pty Ltd was convicted after pleading guilty to three water pollution offences which occurred at the Dargues Reef goldmine near Majors Creek in February and March 2013, and was ordered to pay fines and costs of almost $200,000.

The concept "mean time to first failure" is often used to evaluate the capability of a project. The Dargues project operated for less than a fortnight before its first failure.

This issue is even more alarming when considering Unity's impact on the city of Bendigo in Victoria. The Bendigo Advertiser reported recently on a community petition demanding urgent rehabilitation works at mining sites across Bendigo. 

The petition called on Unity Mining to produce plans for rehabilitation works at its Eaglehawk, New Moon, Woodvale and Kangaroo Flat mines. 

In his opinion piece, McIlwain said: "What I ask is that you consider the modification that Unity is proposing with the same rigour that you apply to other decisions that you make for the benefit of your family and the community in which you live". McIlwain should sleep well knowing that we will do just that.

A community-run Get Up Campaign addressed to NSW Planning Minister Pru Goward is about to register 1000 signatures of people opposed to on-site processing and a facility using cyanide in Majors Creek. The proposed modifications, by the Department of Planning's own previous admission, should require a new application and Unity Mining should do just that, submit an entirely new development application and environmental assessment. One must ask, what legacy will this local community and mining company leave for our children and future generations?

Mat L. Darwon  is a resident of Majors Creek.

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/impact-of-unity-minings-majors-creek-mi...

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