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Robin Tennant-Wood- Communities reject Dargues Reef mine plan, halt cyanide process

After sustained local campaigning by communities from Braidwood to Moruya, Unity Mining has withdrawn its proposal for a modification to its approval which would allow them to use cyanide in ore processing at the Dargues Reef mine.

Over 400 submissions were received, 80 percent of which opposed the modification. Unity released a statement saying that the decision not to proceed with the modification was “made in light of strong community and stakeholder objections, and the overly extended regulatory process and the onerous timeframes relating to such approvals.”

Pertinent to this statement is Unity’s complaint about the regulatory process and ‘onerous’ timeframes. Given that one of the submissions pointed out that Unity’s proposal was based on incorrect rainfall data for the region, it is reassuring that the NSW government’s regulatory processes for these approvals do, in fact, take time.

The same statement released by Unity also noted that the CEO, Andrew McIlwain, would be stepping down from 30 September. No reason was given for McIlwain’s departure and it is unknown whether it is related to this process.

What is known is that Unity Mining’s former Woodvale mine near Bendigo is still causing major environmental problems for the residents of Woodvale and the City of Bendigo. Unity ceased mining at Woodvale in 2011, but groundwater stored in the evaporation ponds of the former mine contains an estimated 60,000 tonnes of salt and up to 60,000 tonnes of arsenic left over from the mining operations.

In 2013 it was apparent that the cost of fully rehabilitating the site was far in excess of the $5.6m bond paid by the company to the Victorian government.

A report in the Canberra Times in 2013 quoted a Unity spokesperson who said that “some components of the Bendigo gold processing plant would be transported to Dargues, the remainder would be used for concentrate processing. (Dargues licence does not permit cyanide processing.)”

It would appear that the modification to the Dargues Reef mine to allow cyanide processing was part of the plan for some time.

Up to now the Woodvale problem has been managed by the City of Bendigo council with additional assistance from the Victorian government.

Last week, however, Unity announced that it had sold its Bendigo mining operations to GBM Gold. McIlwain announced that GBM would become responsible for the ultimate rehabilitation of its land around Bendigo.

“So all of the environmental liabilities and programs that are in place will be picked up by GBM and part of the process is that to protect the state we will transfer the environmental bonds that we have, which is $5.6 million, that will be transferred to GBM’s account,” he said.

The only thing clear about Unity Mining’s operations is that the removal of the cyanide processing modification is not reason to assume that the company is going to commence mining operations or clean up after itself if it does.

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