Catherine Delahunty

Underground Mining – Yeah Right

by Catherine Delahunty

Yesterday I went up on a beautiful mountain, Te Aroha, which forms the stern of the Hauraki waka. High on this mountain is a ‘small’ abandoned  mine site which is in fact a series of visible scars overhanging the small town of Te Aroha on the plain below.

High on the mountain the unstable tailings dam sits at the base of a series of degraded areas which were abandoned in 1973 by Norpac Mining.

Higher up the track piles of waste rock fill a whole gully and there is physical damage to the stream coming down the steep mountainside.

Old mine equipment and old underground shafts are scattered around the valley. The invisible pollution from the shafts, waste rock and tailings dam (acid rock drainage) has destroyed the life of two streams and continues to pollute the waterways downstream.

This couldn’t happen in the 21st century I hear the miners cry. However mining the Coromandel hills will always involve huge problems. The mountains are very steep, the rocks are very fractured. Debris flows occur on sites like behind Thames township and on Mt Te Aroha. High intensity rainfall with flash flooding and erosion is the norm, not some exceptional freak event.

To mine these areas you have to build roads and truck vast quantities of rock out for processing, thus industrialising the forest and walking tracks, or you have to do what they did at Tui and dump your processed waste on site.

You have work out how to seal acid mine drainage in fractured rocks with water flowing through the area and that means more than sealing mine shafts and may not even be possible.

The Assessment of Environmental Effects on the proposed clean up of the Tui Mine site concedes “it is not realistic to expect any remedial works to completely remediate the site in the short term. Complete remediation of the site may not be possible even in the long term”.

In the meantime “Glass Earth Mining” are prospecting in the forests adjacent to another beautiful area near Whangamata, the Parakiwai Reserve. They are claiming that the another Martha Hill open cast gold mine could be worth developing in this area.

We are also expecting the Government to announce the results of the Schedule 4 land removals consultation very soon. Coromandel people are in no doubt that whatever the political game the conservation estate is being eyed up for rape and pillage. We live with the risks and costs of previous mining. We do not benefit from it.

We know there is huge support to protect our area from any major mining developments. We  know  the price of gold in particular is dazzling the mining companies who are keen to expand into the lands north of the Schedule 4 boundary at Kopu/ Hikuai.

What we don’t know is how far this Government wants to push us. Our communities have spoken clearly. We don’t want another Martha Hill,  we don’t want anymore Tui Mine contamination and we don’t believe in the “surgical underground mining rhetoric”. As for coal mining in the Paparoa National Park? How unpopular does this Government want to be?

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Catherine Delahunty on Fri, July 16th, 2010   

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