Miners admit to polluting river

National, Normal

The National – Wednesday, December 8, 2010

UNDER pressure from landowners and campaign groups, Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold have publicly admitted their Hidden Valley mine has polluted the Watut River in Papua New Guinea.
The admission was made in a joint press release with Bulolo MP, Sam Basil, who has been threatening legal action after the miners tried to brush off the problem as just one of “higher than expected sedimentation levels”.
The admission coincides with the first day of a major PNG mining conference in Sydney, Australia, where Newcrest and Harmony were expecting a major public protest.
Details of the acidification of the Watut River by the Hidden Valley mine was first revealed a month ago, Hidden Valley pollution could be worse than Ok Tedi, and was followed by revelations about the health problems being faced by local villagers along the river.
The miners admission is a stark reminder of the environmental and social problems that major mining operations invariably seem to cause in Papua New Guinea despite the promises of the company’s and their scientific experts.
The release stated that upon concerns raised by Basil, an expert technical advisory panel will review sediment and pollution issues affecting the Watut River.
It further stated that the panel would complement the existing regulatory processes and scrutiny of mining operations conducted by the PNG government, adding that it will likely include international specialists with best practice experience relevant to the PNG natural environment
In recent discussions with Basil, it was agreed that terms of reference and membership of the expert technical advisory panel would be determined with a view to finalising details at a meeting in January. 
The joint ventures said the expert technical advisory panel would be a vehicle for the constructive resolution of sediment related issues in a transparent and cooperative forum.
They said the Hidden Valley mine had an engineered tailings storage facility and no mine processing residue or tailings were discharged into the river.
The mine sediment run-off is now significantly lower due to mitigation measures. 
These measures included ceasing of side casting of waste rock and overburden last September, ongoing revegetation of exposed slopes and erosion control, and the storage of waste rock in engineered waste rock facilities.
The Hidden Valley Joint Venture has been making voluntary compensation payments to communities along the Watut River for flood damage to crops and gardens, regardless of what caused the disasters.