MAC: Mines and Communities

Protests, Environmental Failures at Inco's Goro Mine

Published by MAC on 2006-04-25

Protests, Environmental Failures at Inco's Goro Mine

25th April 2006

As Inco continues to blame Indigenous Kanaks for "$10 million" in damages at its Goro project, Kanaks point to environmental failures as well-timed but unfortunate validation of their concerns.

Environmental Failures at Inco's Goro Mine Reinforce Kanak Concerns

Mineral Policy Institute/MiningWatch Canada

25th April 2006

(Noumea) In a radio interview yesterday evening in New Caledonia, Catherine Guillaume, communications manager for the Goro Nickel mine, acknowledged that a landslide had led to a failure of the company's erosion control management. The incident affected the Kie River that flows directly into the lagoon facing the Merlet Reserve, the oldest and largest marine protected area in New Caledonia, and a marine area that has been scheduled by the government for inclusion in a World Heritage nomination to be submitted in January 2007. It is the second acknowledged failure of erosion control mechanisms in a month, and the full extent of the impacts is not yet known.

Earlier this week in a meeting with MiningWatch Canada and the Mineral Policy Institute, Goro management in New Caledonia admitted sediment control measures had failed only a few weeks earlier, polluting the marine environment. Management stated that aside from breaches of sediment capture mechanisms on the site, "silt curtain" sediment control measures that should have been operational on the ocean foreshore were not in place. This confirmed earlier reports from a community leader on the nearby Isle of Pines who reported that 'the oceans had turned red' in an interview on French television.

Degradation of the local environment, and particularly pollution of the marine environment, has been one of the main sources of unresolved conflicts between the company and local communities which lead to a series of blockades of the mine and its recent stop work. The stand off between Indigenous Kanak peoples, the company and the government of the Southern Province continues.

In an interview with MPI yesterday, Rhéébù Nùù leader Rapael Mapou denounced the misinformation campaign against Rhéébù Nùù. "The leadership of Rhéébù Nùù did not call for the destruction of Inco's property, and we are not responsible for these damages. We strongly believe in our right to peaceful prevent the destruction of our lands, livelihoods and sacred sites. The value of our mountains and oceans can not be measured in monetary terms, and as Kanaks we have a duty to protect these places."

Mapou also expressed concerns about the Rhéébù Nùù being excluded from presentations on an independent review of the marine effluent, one of the major concerns raised by the organisation for a number of years. "On Monday Rhéébù Nùù wrote a letter asking the President of the Southern Province to meet with CEREGES, the group currently undertaking an independent review of the impact of the effluent pipeline. The response on Wednesday was that the program was already fixed and that we would not be provided with a meeting. For the last fifteen days we have been hearing that Rhéébù Nùù should meet CEREGES to discuss the interim report but when we requested at do so we were told that we could not."

Meanwhile, Kanak opposition to the Goro project is evident across the country. Over the last two week blockades in solidarity with local Kanak concerns over Goro Nickel have occurred for various durations across main roads of Noumea, including along the road between the airport and Noumea, and at a number of sites on the road from Noumea to the Northern Province. Local sources say that yesterday 150 people rallied at the town hall in Yaté and handed over a list of claims to the Mayor, including a call for a referendum regarding the Goro project, and calling for a meeting of local people with CEREGES. Last Saturday, environment groups, a trade union and a Kanak umbrella organisation Conseil Autochtone pour la Gestion des Resources Naturelles (CAUGERN, the Indigenous Council for Management of Natural Resources) organised a rally in Noumea in solidarity with the concerns expressed by Rhéébù Nùù. It was attended by an estimated 3000 people calling for a halt to the construction of the project. A wide variety of organisations in New Caledonia including the Union Caledonienne, the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (League for Human Rights), and CAUGERN have allissued written statements in support of the Rhéébù Nùù and the social, environmental and human rights issues they have raised.

For more information or photos contact Jacques Boengkih of the Kanaky Development Agency on +687 919 119.

Techa Beaumont of Mineral Policy Institute (Australia) and Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada are both currently in Noumea and can also be reached through this number.

See or for additional background information.

Protesters paralyze Goro: Startup Still Slated for Late 2007

The Northern Miner

By Alisha Hiyate

24th April 2006

Photo: This protester's sign near the Goro nickel project in New Caledonia roughly translates to "Goro-Nickel, a cursed project. The state sells off, Inco pollutes, and Kanak people suffer." Inco, which owns Goro through its subsidiary, Goro Nickel, says protesters in the area recently committed more than $10 million in damages on the company's property.

Weeks after angry protesters at Inco's (N-T, N-N) Goro site in New Caledonia caused upwards of $10 million in damages and forced a shutdown of operations, the nickel company is still tallying the bill and waiting for assurances from the local authorities that it's safe to send employees back to work.

Inco says that during the first weekend in April a group of about 50 protesters caused extensive damage at the site of the massive nickel project, which is still under construction. Protesters damaged excavation equipment and set up road-blocks to the site. Several arrests were made following scuffles with local police who used teargas and armoured vehicles to break up the blockades. Several officers were injured in the melee. And according to local reports, police later apologized for using teargas on women and children.

Less than a week after the first attacks, the site saw more vandalism, including torched water pipes and damage to a communications tower.

The site has been shut down since early April, and the company says some protesters remain in the area.

Though things have quieted, the group responsible for the damage, the Rheebu Nuu Committee, has indicated that the conflict in the French overseas territory is far from over. The group, which represents some of the indigenous Kanak population of the southern province, says it will continue to protest against the project until permits for development -- held by Inco subsidiary Goro Nickel -- are cancelled, and a "genuine negotiation is organized."

The project has long been the subject of protest by the Rheebu Nuu Committee. The committee wants further environmental study of the project, in particular, Goro Nickel's plans to release wastewater into the sea, and the protection of local fresh water sources. Jacques Boengkih of Agence Kanak de Developpement Nouvelle-Caledonie, an indigenous organization that supports the committee, says the group also wants "a negotiated and legally binding settlement regarding social and environmental impacts, much as that signed with Inco by the Innu of Labrador."

A roundtable meeting between the company, the French High Commissioner and the Rheebu Nuu Committee to resolve the standoff was sidelined recently when committee representatives walked out.

Boengkih says the representatives left the meeting because "the French High Commissioner, the Southern Province president and the Goro Nickel managers transformed the meeting into a tribunal to judge the Rheebu Nuu's actions," and into a forum of support for the project.

Opposition to the project is not universal in the South Pacific island, which hosts one-quarter of the world's nickel laterite reserves. Many local politicians and even some Kanak chiefs support Goro.

Indefinite layoffs

Steve Mitchell, Inco's director of public affairs, points to local media reports of protests by hundreds of Goro workers against the disruptions that have led to indefinite layoffs.

"There are about 1,600 people working on-site and 1,400 of them are New Caledonians," he says. "There are hundreds of local businesses that are working on the project, so there's a lot of people whose livelihoods are being directly impacted by this."

Philippe Gomes, president of New Caledonia's Southern Province, has criticized the Rheebu Nuu Committee's actions publicly, claiming that environmental damage is not the group's main concern.

"Environment is only the dressing," he told a local television station. "The real bottom line is that they want to get royalties, and we are strongly opposed to the payment of any royalties. We believe the population must be an actor in the development process. This means to educate itself, to acquire skills, to work. To act otherwise is to choose to be a development pensioner, someone who sits under the coconut tree and waits for revenues to fall."

Mitchell says that the group has not been left out of the company's consultation with local communities. But because the group had boycotted many meetings, including those of an environmental surveillance committee set up by the government, it's been "difficult to engage them in any kind of constructive dialogue," he says.

After rising costs halted the project in 2002, Inco reconsidered and decided to develop Goro in 2004. Construction is well under way and the company anticipates a late 2007 startup.

Mitchell says the company won't resume work until local authorities can guarantee the safety and security of the site.

Inco will release an update of the cost of the vandalism and construction delay when it releases its first-quarter results later this month.

The US$1.9-billion project, with a reserve of 95 million tonnes grading 1.53% nickel and 0.12% cobalt, is owned 69% by Inco, 21% by Japan's Sumitomo Metal Mining and Mitsui and 10% by three New Caledonian provinces.

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