At an extraordinary general meeting held in the National Theatre in Braidwood on Thursday 20 August, Palerang Council voted to oppose Unity Mining’s proposal for modifications to the Dargue’s Reef mine that would allow cyanide- based processing on site.
The meeting was attended by around 120 local residents with the overwhelming majority speaking against the modification proposal. Community sentiment was made clear in an interview with ABC radio on 24 August when Palerang Mayor Pete Harrison noted: “the vast majority of the community is not very comfortable at all with having a mine in their backyard”.
This also follows the release of a professional report, commissioned by Palerang and Eurobodalla Councils, which confirms fears that the proposed use of cyanide in a process to separate the gold from ore, poses a risk to downstream catchments. The report also pointed to precedents where cyanide processing has caused major environmental problems.
There are further concerns that if the proposal for cyanide processing is approved, Unity will begin importing ore for processing from other mining sites.
Bungendore farmer and former Palerang councilor Judith Turley, in her submission to the NSW government, pointed to the irony that the submissions process was being held as the Jerrara Dam on the south coast was in danger of failing due to torrential rain from an East Coast low weather system.
These systems are likely to become more common as climate disruption increases. Turley also noted that the original mine approval was for mining only. She questions the purpose of the NSW approvals process if such a modification can be made before the mine even begins operation.
Environmental consultant and Braidwood resident, Dr Su Wild-River, submitted that the social and environmental contracts “previously … negotiated for this mine were based fundamentally on not introducing new toxic chemicals into this local environment, and on a concept of gold being processed elsewhere“.
She also pointed to the independent report as evidence of potential risk and the unsubstantiated claims of temporary economic benefit as against the real threat of permanent environmental damage.
A Facebook page used for discussion by Braidwood and district residents has hosted impassioned discussion on the Dargue’s Reef issue, with the majority of participants against the proposal.
Those in favour focus mainly on potential economic benefits and jobs for the region. However with little or no evidence of economic benefit so far, and only verbal promises from Unity regarding local employment, the economic argument holds little sway against the scenario of livelihoods lost in the event of an environmental disaster.