MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Solomon Islands: No plans for Gold Ridge mine tailings dam risking overflow

Published by MAC on 2015-01-03
Source:, Radio New Zealand

No plans for Gold Ridge mine tailings dam risking overflow

Cecilia Jamasmie

31 December 2014

Solomon Islands locals living near St Barbara’s Gold Ridge mine are being warned of a looming disaster as the mine's tailings dam levels continue to rise, risking to overflow.

The Australian miner has asked the country’s new government to agree to a managed de-watering plan to avoid an uncontrolled flood. However, authorities have yet to take any action over what the company has qualified as a potential mine disaster that may cost lives and have serious environmental costs, Radio New Zealand reports.

St Barbara's CEO Bob Vassie warned earlier this month that water levels in the facility were already too high and said he was worried on the effect of further rains expected in the next few months, the wet season. The company even posted ads in local newspapers warning locals.

But the new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has made no comment beyond saying his government is currently recruiting international consultants to analyze the environmental and technical aspects of the mine, reported the radio station.

Gold Ridge mine began operations in 1998. After a period of being dormant, in 2010 a $150 million refurbishment and expansion project to around 100,000 ounces per year was started. St Barbara acquired the Gold Ridge mine in 2012 for over $500 million, according to the company website.

No plans for Gold Ridge mine tailings dam risking overflowGold Ridge is situated approximately 40 km by road from the Solomon Island capital city Honiara. Honiara is approximately three hours flight from Brisbane, Australia.

St Barbara last year produced 365,000 ounces of gold, with the bulk coming from its Gwalia mine in Western Australia.

The operation has been closed since April this year following torrential rains that caused extensive damage and led to the evacuation of expat workers.

St Barbara's staff was subsequently ordered by authorities not to return to the site. When that dispute was settled In June St Barbara found a large number of illegal miners had set up camp at the Gold Ridge open pit.

Solomon Islands Govt has no plan for Gold Ridge overflow

Radio New Zealand -

31 December 2014

The new Solomon Islands government is yet to take any action over what the owners of the Gold Ridge gold mine say is a serious environmental threat.

Gold Ridge has been closed since it was damaged by flooding in April.

The mine is owned by Australian company St Barbara, which has warned the mine's tailings dam is in danger of overflowing.

It wants the government to agree to a managed de-watering plan to avoid an uncontrolled flood.

Two weeks ago St Barbara said if a flood happened it could cause significant environmental damage and claim lives.

But the new government of prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has had no comment to make beyond saying it is currently recruiting international consultants to analyse the environmental and technical aspects of the mine.

The government has indicated it wants the mine back in operation and is preparing a new policy on mining while also considering the previous government's plans to buy the mine from St Barbara.


Solomons mine overflow could claim lives - miner (Originally aired on Dateline Pacific -

17 December 2014

Rising water levels in tailings dam of Solomon Islands mine poses a threat to life and property.


An Australian mine company says lives could be lost if there is not an immediate action to lower dangerous water levels in the tailings dam of the Gold Ridge mine in Solomon Islands.

The mine has been shut since April after extensive flooding on Guadalcanal.

The chief executive of Gold Ridge's parent company, St Barbara, Bob Vassie, told Don Wiseman not a day passes when he does not worry about the growing threat posed by the tailings dam.

He says the water level in the storage facility is already too high and the company is prepared to take immediate action to ensure there is no unpredictable overflow, but the Solomons' government is dragging the chain.

BOB VASSIE: What the company wants to do and is prepared to fund and has the equipment available already. Is to mobilise two pumps and a large generator and fuel system to be able to immediately pump high volumes of water, into the existing lines that go into the Tinahula River. On the basis that the water is of acceptable quality, given the Australian and New Zealand standards and that it would also be further diluted in the river. Because the only other alternative, is that the water level will climb and will go over top of the spillway and go into a gorge that has communities living along it.

DON WISEMAN: How quickly can you get in there?

BV: If we got the go ahead and we've been asking for this since the first of September. But if we got the go ahead today, we could probably get in, what we've been saying is seven days. But we'd look at every opportunity, with the support of the police and perhaps the Australian government or even the New Zealand government and people that deal with the Solomon Islands, that we would speed that up as much as we could.

DW: You need police support because you've had a lot of vandalism at the site and you can't leave gear, the new gear you'd bring in you can't leave that lying around?

BV: Exactly, I mean, well it's been destroyed twice this year. And it's not only just looking after the gear, it's security. You know we have had threats on people as recently as last month who were trying to measure the situation at the tailings storage facility.

DW: The government has seemed co-operative but there's been the elections so it's been distracted somewhat hasn't it?

BV: There has been an election, but we've been on about this for months. It's just a stunning lack of leadership to make a very, very rational decision. This one thing, that could really cause a localised disaster, of either water or much worse happening.

DW: Are you suggesting that there could be lives lost?

BV: Yeah, it depends on the weather. If a lot of water comes down, it would over top the existing spillway. Now we were in the act of making a new lined spillway, but that equipment was destroyed. So the existing spillway, only has a sort of geo- fabric and conveyor belt to protect it. So in a higher rainfall event, what would happen is, water would over top and it would start to erode at the spillway. The more it erodes the lower the spillway gets and then compounds and you will get a lot of water coming out. If a lot of water comes out it will do two things. One is it will start to take tailings with it,which will be an environmental consequence that would not be good. The water you can generally deal with, because as we are saying, the water is OK. But bringing tailings into the environment is never a good thing. But then if it erodes enough that a lot of water comes out in a fairly quick time, there's about a kilometre gorge before it hits the main river. That could cause localised flash flooding in those communities, which runs the risk of loss of life. Now, we've done all we can to try and convince the government to try and approve the alternative. Which is pumping clean water into the river, that's not so clean itself. But what we've done now is warn the community, that if this was to happen, they need to be aware, that they may need to evacuate. And we have also in our response to the Ministry of Environment that if they are not prepared to approve our de-watering plan which was submitted twice now then we need to move from working to avoid a disaster to planning for one. And therefore the government should be developing evacuation plans, such that in the outcome there's an environmental one that can be remediated rather than a loss of property and life.


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