Related: Mining set to resume in Bendigo
The head of the company which wants to restart gold mining in Bendigo says groundwater rising through the city’s network of abandoned and disused mines is the state government’s responsibility.
GBM Gold chief executive officer John Harrison said the city’s modern phase of mining had not contributed to the problem, which will lead to water laced with arsenic and rotten egg gas spilling into the city’s waterways – if nothing is done.
GBM is seeking state government approval for its bid to acquire mining licences for Bendigo from Unity Mining. But Mr Harrison refuted claims by Unity Mining’s Environment Review Committee, councillor Peter Cox, that the company had an obligation to contribute to a solution for the issue of groundwater.
“The simple fact is that Unity had no contribution to the rising groundwater,” Mr Harrison said.
“Forty million tons of ore were dug underneath Bendigo from the 1850s right through 1954 when the last mine closed.
“It was after that mine closed down the water rose and began running through Bendigo creeks.”
He said the modern phase of mining, starting in the 1980s with Western Mining, had addressed the problem by pumping the groundwater out to allow for further exploration.
“Unity continued what Western was doing until 2011 when it informed the government it was no longer mining, and therefor no longer pumping, and so it became a government responsibility.
“And that’s where it sits.”
However members of the ERC argue that Unity – although it didn’t create the problem – significantly contributed to it.
ERC community representative for Eaglehawk, Ian Magee, said last week that Unity’s new mines – on higher ground than those which run through central Bendigo – had contributed between 30 to 40 per cent volume to the rising groundwater.
Nor is the ERC alone in being concerned about GBM’s ability to meet the costs of post-mining rehabilitation, should the transfer be approved.
The mayor of Bendigo has written to the mining minister asking her not to approve the transfer of a mining licence unless she is fully confident the company has a plan – and can afford to finance – a full rehabilitation of the sites.
Last month mayor Rod Fyffe wrote Minister Lily D'Ambrosio saying he “considered critical” that she ensured GBM had adequate resources in place to carry out “the long promised rehabilitation of the key sites of the Bendigo gold project”.
“Council notes that an applicant must satisfy the minister it has an appropriate program of work and ‘is likely to be able to finance the proposed work and rehabilitation of the land’ and urges you to give this matter deep consideration in regard to the proposed transfer,” Cr Fyffe wrote.
“Further, council strongly recommends that the transfer not proceed unless you are fully satisfied that adequate resources are available for site rehabilitation in accordance with modern community standards.
“Council believes the most appropriate method for ensuring this is to exercise your powers under Section 33 (3) to require that the work plan include a detailed closure and rehabilitation plan for each site that is fully costed and that this figure is reflected in the rehabilitation bond.”
GBM chief executive officer John Harrison responded by saying GBM had always, and would continue to “do things by the book”.
“Unity already had a plan to rehabilitate the site and the $6 million bond covers that,” Mr Harrison said.
“We’ve done everything required of us, in a legal sense.
“The real question is, if GBM doesn't take over what will be done there?
“If we are out of picture, what’s to stop Unity selling to somebody else?”
A spokesperson for Minister D'Ambrosio said the minister the proposed transfer of the licence to GBM Gold was “still being considered and no decision has been made as yet”.