Government orders audit into evaporation ponds; Woodvale community relieved

The Bendigo community may finally get an indication of whether arsenic or other toxic materials are present at Woodvale evaporation ponds.

The state’s mining regulator last month approved a work plan submitted on behalf of mining company GBM Gold, which includes rehabilitation options for the ponds.

The approval by Earth Resources Regulation requires current mining licence holder GBM Gold to undertake an environmental audit that satisfies two sections of the Environment Protection Act. 

One of those sections, 53V, is described as, “an environmental audit report in relation to the risk of any possible harm or detriment to a segment of the environment caused by any industrial process or activity, waste, substance or noise”.

The ponds have been used by successive mining companies to store pumped mine water for almost 30 years.

A letter sent by resources minister Wade Noonan to Bendigo East MP Jacinta Allan states the audit must begin within three months of the work plan approval, and the audit results must be made public.

The audit is to be completed by an Environment Protection Authority appointed auditor.

ERR also requires GBM Gold to carry out dust mitigation and monitoring as part of the rehabilitation works.

The Woodvale community has long harbored environmental concerns for the site. 

GBM Gold Environment Review Committee representative Ian Magee said: “What we want this to lead to is a definitive result which shows what the level of pollution is.”

He said the audit could take up to a year to complete and would likely be expensive. 

The Bendigo and District Environmental Council mining spokesperson Simon Perrin said there was “no doubt the ponds contain arsenic – it was just how much”.

GBM Gold CEO John Harrison said the company was delighted its plan for rehabilitating the ponds had been approved.

“The company welcomes an environmental audit of the site and is confident the findings of the audit will validate the appropriateness of the environmental controls that the company currently has in place and propose for the rehabilitation work,” he said.

Mr Harrison could not put a timeline or potential cost on the audit.

GBM Gold sold its processing plant at the Kangaroo Flat mine in July but said it was still 12-18 months away from resuming prospecting. 

The company plans to enter into an agreement with other Victorian ore-processing facilities – three of which are located in Inglewood, Maldon and Ballarat – to process material.