Last Monday Jeanette and I were invited to a forum on mining in Waihi. Part of the event was a tour of the open cast pit (formerly Martha Hill) and the Favona underground mine, and the tailing dam (formerly the Golden Valley).
Even though I was an objector at the first hearings to oppose that gold mine in Waihi in the mid 1980s, I had never been through the mine site. It was very interesting to see the vast hole in the centre of Waihi which may or may not become a lake, a lake that may or may not become highly acidic.
Even more fascinating was the trip into the underground gold mine dressed like the Village People, but definitely appreciating the safety features provided by the company. Inside Papatuanuku, it is grey, black and wet. The mining company is blasting most days to see if they can find three grams of gold per tonne of rock. The rock all gets treated with cyanide and crushed to extract the gold before being sent off in a slurry form to the vast tailing dump they have built down Baxters Road. The company are very good at their engineering and their PR, and they provide jobs to miners who know how to drive great big trucks and excavators and how to blow up rocks. This is a technological wonder which Newmont are only too happy to explain.
I staggered out of the pit with a new appreciation of just how clever and stupid humans are at the same time. Some one is getting very rich from this mine, but the Martha open cast pit pays no royalties to the Government. The people of Waihi live with blasting, subsidence and permanent monitoring of those tailings full of heavy metals heaped up just outside of town.
Thanks to the work Jeanette did with the distressed local residents group (DRAT), some locals are now getting some compensation for their discomfort.
It’s probably a lot better than some of the other Newmont mines around the world. Let’s hope so. You only have to Google Yanacocha or Choropampa to learn that things have been a lot less pleasant in the Peruvian mountains, with deaths and armed security firms and some nasty acid mine drainage on someone’s sacred mountain. And then there is Newmont’s work in Ghana including the displacing of the local cocoa farmers and the plan to mine in the Bepo Forest Reserves.
Why should we care? One reason is the Newmont were supposed to be going away, but the price of gold is so high they want to expand the Martha pit and are now about to prospect north of Waihi at a beautiful coastal settlement called Onemana.
So I am encouraging people in the Coromandel to be vigilant. While Waihi has endured mining for more than one hundred years, further north there little enthusiasm to replace low-impact tourism with large pits.
In the 21st century the benefits of all that ripping, digging and crushing, all that energy, fossil fuels and water contamination haven’t really made Waihi look very prosperous. As for the rest of the Hauraki-Coromandel – we need more gold mines like a hole in our hearts.