MAC: Mines and Communities

New Caledonia Update

Published by MAC on 2006-06-16

New Caledonia Update

16th June 2006

NEW CALEDONIA: Serious Setback For Giant Nickel Mining Project

(Oceania Flash) Canadian mining giant's nickel project in the South of New Caledonia has suffered a significant setback on Wednesday, when a court in Nouméa ruled to void local company Goro-Nickel to operate on the mineral massif.

The exploitation permit had been granted in October 2004 by local authorities of New Caledonia's Southern Province. However, it was challenged by a group of concerned citizens and environmentalists who argued serious environment impact studies had not been performed.

Wednesday's ruling however does not put into question the construction of the Goro-Nickel nickel project (for a capital investment estimated at 1.88 billion US dollars). Construction resumed on the site last year, but it has since encountered staunch opposition from indigenous concern and environmental group "Rheebu Nuu".

The group, on April 2, moved to sabotage some ten million US dollars worth of equipment on the construction site. The site was subsequently occupied for several weeks before French police stepped in to "liberate" it.

Last week, an estimated 2,500 people took to the streets of the capital Nouméa n support of a march to protest against the environmental impacts of the Goro-Nickel project which, organisers said, had not yet been properly assessed.

They say they do not oppose the project per se, but demand that a proper environmental study be carried out.

Other indigenous groups, including a so-called CAUGERN (indigenous council for natural resources management in Kanaky-New Caledonia, Conseil autochtone pour la gestion des ressources naturelles en Kanaky-Calédonie), are also hinting at indigenous royalties claims for the traditional land owners.

Reacting to the court decision on Wednesday, Rheebu Nuu's secretary general Raphaël Mapou said he was "elated" and that the ruling was a strong signal for the respect of environment and of indigenous peoples' rights.

Meanwhile, after the Goro-related unrest in April, the French High Commission and the Southern Province of New Caledonia have called on all stakeholders to take par tin a series of roundtables to discuss environment and development issues and ways to address them.

Meanwhile, New Caledonia is this week celebrating "environment week" as part of the global initiative.

Organisers of local festivities have decided to choose this year the following theme: "Tomorrow, our island: a desert?".

New Caledonia mine protesters score court victory

Radio Australia

15th June 2006

Protesters in New Caledonia have secured a legal victory in their struggle against what is planned to be one of the world's biggest nickel mines.

An administrative court has cancelled Goro Nickel's licence to mine at the still unfinished site because of what it called insufficient study of the environmental impact.

The AFP newsagency says the ruling has no immediate impact on the facility, as the mine is not yet operational and its construction licence remains valid.

However, AFP says it marks a victory for the indigenous Kanak Rheebu Nuu movement fighting to block it.

The court found a previous study had not sufficiently proven that samples used represented the level of toxins which would be produced when the mine is operational.

Another analysis is already under way on the impact of the site.

Rheebu Nuu have repeatedly complained that the site will harm the environment and say they should get royalties from the mine.

Green threat to Goro

12th June 2006

AROUND the same time Inco was announcing a donation to freshwater restoration at Sudbury in Canada, an environmental cloud appeared over the development of the Goro laterite nickel project in New Caledonia.

According to the Macquarie commodities team, the indigenous group in New Caledonia that opposed the project "has won a preliminary ruling by an administrative tribunal" that the company's environmental impact study at Goro "has not been vigorous enough".

The impact on the development of Goro is unclear, with Inco yet to comment.

Goro's construction has already been impacted by the indigenous group, called Rheebu Nuu, with some two to four weeks lost, costing around $US10 million ($A13.4 million) earlier this year after vandalism and violent protests.

The 60,000 tonne per annum nickel (plus 3000-5000t cobalt) project was set to come on line in 2008-09 and is seen as a key project to alleviate pressure on the tight nickel market.

Meantime in Sudbury, Inco has donated $C300,000 ($A362,300) towards a detailed design study for Laurentian University's Living with Lakes Centre. According to Inco, the centre will provide a new home for the growing Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, "which has been internationally recognised for its research in freshwater restoration".

Justice at last?

Tribunal Administratif[1], Noumea, New Caledonia.

8th June 2006

The Commissaire du Governement[2] Jean-Paul Briseul at the Noumea Administrative Tribunal called upon his colleague magistrates to pronounce the illegality of the deliberation made by the government of the Southern province granting Goro-Nickel SA licence to operate in Goro, Southern province of New Caledonia, its nickel-cobalt production plant using the hydrometallurgical and solvent extraction process technology.

In a long and severe attack on the Southern province October 9, 2004 act, the Government Commissioner pointed out all the reasons for the court to cancel the deliberation. Amongst these are :

- The people's right to be informed has been violated. The deficiency in providing the proper information to people plus the fact that the information provided was not accessible to people indicate a certain ignorance of the right to participation which is a fundamental right;

- The environmental impact assessment was insufficient is many ways (e.g. manganese impact and the atmospheric emissions (coal burning power plant);

- The principle of precaution has been astray when used to grant derogations to norms or standards that should imposed on the project (e.g; the quantity of manganese allowed to be disposed in the lagoon is 100 times above the international standards on the basis that there is no scientific statement on the dangerousness of such quantity. When the operation will show that such quantity is hazardous to people's health, then the principle of precaution will apply);

- On the contrary, the principle of precaution should have led the Southern province government to refer to international Conventions and as well to European Union norms;

- The Southern province authorities have been hiding behind the lack of environmental legislation to apply in New Caledonia when they should have taken into account French metropolitan environmental laws;

- From the moment no environment law exists in New Caledonia, jurisprudence should have taken the leading role.

- The project impact assessment should have included a social and cultural component as it is developed in a country where an Indigenous people live, and negotiations for a consensus with the indigenous populations should have taken place.

The magistrate presiding the court said that the decision will be made within few weeks as the case is very important and complex. Observers say that the court will take the time to ensure that its decision will give no room to any challenge in the case the Southern province government and/or Goro-Nickel SA would make an appeal to the court's decision.

Few days ago in Paris, the French government refused a demand introduced by Rheebu Nuu's lawyer Jerome Bouquet-Elkaim that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague mediate the Goro-Nickel case, under the pretext that the case is strictly considered as French internal affairs. But in its answer, Paris also called upon Rheebu Nuu's lawyer to look at the Administrative Tribunal's decision to come.

Commentators say Paris is probably taking distances from the Southern province leadership.

Goro-Nickel SA made no comment, but a member of the management team said all what is happening is consequent to French mining company ERAMET-SLN strategy to re-conquer its control over New Caledonia nickel ore reserve.

Next June 14th will take place the round-table between all parties concerned by the Goro project. Now the questions are: what could Philippe Gomez do to help the mining company to develop its project if once the processing plant being built it has no authorisation to operate ? And what can the mining company say when its executive officers always pretended they would go by the rules?

[1] Tribunal Administratif : is the court which deals with internal French civil service matters.

[2] Commissaire du Gouvernement is one of the magistrates of a Administrative Court. His role is to monitor that the proper laws apply as he is "the guardian of jurisprudence". He works closely with his colleagues but does not seat with them when the Court deliberates.

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