THE Supreme Court has dismissed a mining company's push to save its Bendigo mining rights, potentially spelling the beginning of the end of a 170-year-old goldfield.
The court found the state mining regulator's 2019 decision to revoke miner Kralcopic's rights to sites in Kangaroo Flat and Woodvale in central Victoria was valid.
The decision will likely have far-reaching consequences for Kralcopic, its parent company GBM Gold and the future of gold mining under Bendigo.
Kralcopic has had the rights to explore and work Bendigo sites since 2017 and had hoped to explore the bottom of the Swan Decline, an 18km tunnel under the city centre that surfaces in Kangaroo Flat.
They had set themselves a target of discovering 6.2 million ounces of gold.
The company had also committed to rehabilitating "evaporation ponds" in Woodvale. Miners had previously pumped arsenic-laden mine water into the shallow dams where water could evaporate, leaving anything toxic behind.
Some community members have health and environmental concerns about Woodvale, in particular.
They have argued there is a risk of arsenic-laden dust could blow out of the dams in summer should the water level drop too much.
State regulator Earth Resources Regulation has been closely monitoring the Woodvale site for many years, but GBM Gold has argued the risk is overstated and that water is pumped in during summer to mitigate any dangers.
The case does not determine the future of either site, but could become a major step forward for those who want to see both sites rehabilitated.
The Bendigo Advertiser is yet to establish GBM Gold's next moves, or whether there might be other companies willing over its former licences.
Earth Resources Regulation would need to sign off on any of those potential moves.
Kralcopic itself is currently in the hands of administrators, after a push from creditors to reclaim debts linked to the Kangaroo Flat entrance to the Swan Decline.
Administrators are yet to decide what to do about the company.
Mary Markey lives near the mine and for years sat on a community oversight committee linked to Bendigo mining operations.
She fears the Victorian government could ignore closure plans drafted in previous decades and instead allow another company to come in.
"The government has got to stop repeating Bendigo's history, in which they hand mines from company to company," she said on Tuesday, before the court ruling was handed down.
Mrs Markey said mining ministers have previously ignored or not fully explored community concerns about mining projects in Bendigo, pointing to one that spent nearly $200 million digging the Swan Decline that failed to find enough gold to make their investment viable.
She now wants the regulator to order Kralcopic to begin rehabilitating the site within the year, or to do it itself using money previously set aside for any environmental work.
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Mrs Markey was part of a push several years ago to stop Bendigo Mining working Kangaroo Flat, but was among residents who chose to abide by "the umpire's decision" to let them operate the site.
"We really felt there could still be a ribbon of gold going underneath," she said.
Mrs Markey was gutted to see works turn into what she described as a "social disaster", where neighbours had to deal with noise pollution and the negative impact on their lives.
People who moved to and fell in love with Bendigo lost their jobs and moved elsewhere with their families, and the investors who had put money in because they thought it would help their town grow stronger lost out, she said.
Mrs Markey said Bendigo Mining's then-boss genuinely believed old-time miners had missed a mother lode because they did not have the technology to pump out rising ground water deep underground.
"The gold wasn't there, all they got was leftovers. And let's be honest, the old miners needed to leave some bits or Bendigo would have just collapsed into the whole void," she joked.
The Bendigo Advertiser has contacted Earth Resources Regulation for comment.
A GBM Gold spokesperson said the company is considering its legal options.
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