THE state's mining regulator has warned that rehabilitating Bendigo's last remaining mining sites will likely take years of careful planning and work.
Its executive director Anthony Hurst has revealed the government's thinking when it short-circuited discussions on the future of company Kralcopic by getting a court order to liquidate on Friday.
"The decision we took ... was purely in the public interest - to get these sites rehabilitated, to protect public health and also environmental safety," the Earth Resources Regulation boss said.
That decision: Government forces Bendigo mining company into liquidation
Kralcopic's former owner GBM Gold had been working on a proposed deed of company arrangement to salvage the company.
Creditors of Kralcopic were preparing to vote on the proposal later this week, but the government had concerns about its rehabilitation provisions and GBM Gold's lack of Australian directors.
The court order is likely the final nail in the coffin of ambitions to rekindle mining deep under Bendigo streets, including in an 18km-long tunnel running from Kangaroo Flat to the city's remaining goldfields.
Newly appointed liquidator KPMG is inheriting a deeply complex process of settling Kralcopic's debts and deciding how to divvy up assets while the regulator rehabilitates multiple sites including in Kangaroo Flat and Woodvale.
"This will be a lengthy exercise. It could take a couple of years depending on what we discover going into these sites," Mr Hurst said.
"Bear in mind that some of these sites have been around for hundreds of years.
"We will work through that very carefully. We will have an environmental auditor involved with us so that we can get independent input and oversight."
Mr Hurst expected specialist engineers would do the bulk of that work.
Adding to rehabilitation complexities, some former Bendigo mining sites are on a mish-mash of crown and private land.
That includes at Woodvale, where land was once owned by miners.
Kralcopic's liquidator will now have a say on whether that land is turned into paddocks or maybe even a solar farm capable of harvesting energy for Bendigo.
That project is currently mired in uncertainty.
Kralcopic announced it was working on plans for the solar farm in 2019, a few years before it went belly-up.
Any build would still need to go through multiple regulatory approvals and would likely have to be compatible with previous plans to return the site to rural-zoned land.
It would also need a financial backer.
Kralcopic's owner GBM Gold believed it had one in 2019 but never announced its name, citing commercial sensitivities.
GBM Gold's then-chief executive John Harrison told the Bendigo Advertiser the project would proceed "no matter what happens".
"If we didn't raise the money an administrator would come in ... the project would be developed by someone else, not GBM," he said.
That premise is currently being tested. An administrator came and went in a matter of months, before any plans could come together for the solar farm.
Earth Resources Regulation will give liquidators time to assess whether a commercial venture at Woodvale could go ahead, Mr Hurst said.
It is one example of the complexities untangling Kralcopic's assets from the land they sit on.
There are others.
On another side of town, the Advertiser can reveal the scale of works to be undertaken at Kralcopic's old Kangaroo Flat site.
It has obtained drone images from a third party. The Advertiser has elected not to reveal its source.
The images show how close the site is to Kangaroo Flat's urban boundary.
They also show a section of the site where miners had started processing mine tailings in 2019 for minerals previous companies had not had the technology to extract.
The project stopped abruptly when Earth Resources Regulation revoked Kralcopic's mining licences over concerns about its capacity to pay off debts and fund future works.
One image shows the entrance to the underground tunnel called the Swan Decline, which is in the top left-hand corner.
It also shows the green processing plant buildings that have become the centre of a dispute.
The Advertiser understands that the processing plant was built on crown land decades ago and that a court could decide whether it should be classed as Kralcopic's or the government's asset.
Whatever the final decision, Earth Resources Regulation's main concern is site rehabilitation.
"How it's removed, and by whom, is of less concern to us. What is of greater concern is that it's removed and disposed of appropriately," Mr Hurst said.
With such a complex rehabilitation yet to fully kick into gear, community advocates are preparing to scrutinise environmental bonds and prepare questions for both the regulator and liquidator.
Others are taking a moment to celebrate.
One advocate who is celebrating is Mary Markey.
Her home overlooks the Kangaroo Flat site and she has been fighting for a decade to see it rehabilitated after "disastrous" decisions about what to do with the site over the past 10 years.
"I am firmly convinced we are going to get good and prompt rehabilitation," she said.
"I'm not expecting miracles up there. It's not going to turn into the Garden of Eden but rehabilitation can be done properly.
"We've already had companies that have made detailed rehabilitation plans over the years."
Mrs Markey suspected Earth Resources Regulation will want to make Bendigo into a showcase for rehabilitation and has been contacted by government representatives since Friday's announcement.
She hopes it is a sign the Kangaroo Flat community will be involved in rehabilitation works.
Mrs Markey says one of the most important jobs should be to clean up a memorial originally created at the site after the death of a miner several decades ago.
"I'll insist on that because when I last saw it [several years ago], it had been neglected," she said.
The top priority should be removing hundreds of thousands of tonnes worth of mine tailings from the surface of the Kangaroo Flat site, Mrs Markey said.
She hopes it can be used to plug the entrance to a mine entrance at the site.
Earth Resources Regulation has already told the community that it is closely monitoring the risk of arsenic-laden dust blowing around the site.
It recently noticed "some elevation" in arsenic from dust gauges at the Kangaroo Flat site, even though the only activity on site in that period was light vehicle movements.
The results were detected in December and January, when mining sites often dry out and the risk of dust blowing onto nearby properties increases.
Earth Resources Regulation told the community it had referred the results to the Environmental Protection Authority as well as a private firm that would report back as soon as possible on potential sources and impacts.
Mr Hurst said the agency would keep people updated as key moments in KPMG's liquidation works arrive and as the rehabilitation process develops.
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