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KCGM in moves to reopen tailings dams

by Kevin AndrusiakThe Australian

HE more gold goes up, the further down the Kalgoorlie Super Pit partners want to go.

Joint-venture owners Newmont Mining and Barrick Gold want to increase the heights of two controversial tailings dams, and re-open another, as part of its plans to expand Australia's biggest gold mine, the massive Super Pit operations in the West Australian goldfields capital of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Newmont and Barrick, through their joint-venture company KCGM, which manages the mine, have won environmental approval to increase the heights of the Fimiston 1 and Fimiston 2 dams, the same dams that are part of a system that broke down only two years ago and contributed to a spill of cyanide and hypersaline water.

Newmont and Barrick want to increase the size of the Super Pit and extend the life of the mine, which sits on the eastern fringe of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and was originally the brainchild of disgraced businessman Alan Bond. The mine yields upwards of 800,000 ounces of gold a year for its North American owners and the expansion would lengthen the mine's life to 2017 by adding a further five years of production.

Gold prices are currently on a high as the value of the US dollar declines further amid serious concerns about the state of the world's biggest economy.

Gold producers exposed to spot prices nearing $US1000 an ounce are cashing in with expectations that the good times will continue to last for a while yet.

However, any increase in the footprint of the mine would leave its borders within 200m of people's houses in some cases in what is a concern to many residents. The pit's depth would be increased to 600m and the extension, called the Golden Pike Cutback, would cover 46ha.

KCGM was fined $25,000, described as "chicken feed" by the owner of the neighbouring lease, for the spill and promised authorities that it had implemented a "number of improvement measures" to better retain all process material, which it is bound by law to do. KCGM also argued that the seepage was mitigated by rainfall at the time and that it co-operated fully with government investigations at the time.

It was not the first time KCGM had been guilty of spilling waste water, with a similar breach in 1993. KCGM has also been caught out twice breaching sulphur dioxide emission limits and is the nation's biggest emitter of mercury. It released more than eight tonnes into the surrounding environment during the 2004-05 period.

Neither KCGM general manager Russell Cole or community relations manager Danielle van Kampen returned emailed questions about the nature of the proposed lift in the Fimiston dams or the reopening of the Kaltails site.

While KCGM has received approvals, nearby residents have raised their concerns with the Environment Department appeals convener ahead of a decision by West Australian Environment Minister David Templeman on whether the expansion can proceed.

The Kaltails Dam has been criticised by state environmental authorities in the past for its poor construction, site selection and the destruction of a large tract of vegetation.

KCGM has indicated that it would not re-open the Kaltails dam if it was allowed to increase the other Fimiston operations.


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