MAC: Mines and Communities

BHPBilliton: earning praise - and condemnation

Published by MAC on 2006-05-31

BHPBilliton: earning praise - and condemnation

31st May 2006

BHPBilliton is currently basking in praise for returning a final mortgage payment to Wisconsin tribes as they complete purchase of its Crandon mine lease.

It's a fairly minor gesture for what must be a major public relations gambit. Meanwhile, however, the world's biggest "natural resources" company is locked in battle with trade unionists at its Ekati mine in Canada; and is the subject of a criminal law suit, following the death of a mineworker at its Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine in South Australia.

Mining Firm Gives $8m Back To Tribe; Gift Ends Crandon Mine Saga

The Capital Times (Madison)
By Robert Imrie (Associated Press)

31st May 2006

Three years after it helped to buy the site of a proposed mine near Crandon -- shutting down the disputed project -- an Indian tribe has made its final $8 million mortgage payment to a mining company that will donate the money back to the tribe through a trust fund, a tribal official said Tuesday.

"It is a gift. It is basically a gift out of the blue," said Tony Phillippe, administrator for the Mole Lake, or Sokaogon, Chippewa band. "It is going to be a charitable trust."

The BHP Billiton Fund for the Sokaogon People will be managed through the Madison Community Foundation, which holds more than 680 other endowment funds to enhance philanthropy for the long-term benefit of diverse individuals and organizations.

In October 2003, the Mole Lake Chippewa and Forest County Potawatomi agreed to pay $16.5 million to buy Nicolet Minerals Co. and more than 5,000 acres associated with the proposed underground zinc and copper mine just south of Crandon. The purchase was from Northern Resource Group, a new company started by a Laona family.

Northern Resource, with expertise in logging and wood products, had acquired the project in April 2003 from BHP Billiton, an international metals company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, which had also provided $8 million in financing to the Laona company, authorities said. But Northern Resource said it was unable to find other investors and a partner with mining expertise to proceed with the mine.

The two tribes, with new wealth from casino profits, opposed the Crandon mine project for years, warning that it would pollute valuable water resources, including the pristine Wolf River nearby, and that the risk wasn't worth the mining jobs that would be created.

When the tribes bought the mine site, the Potawatomi paid cash for their share of the deal, and the Mole Lake made a $250,000 downpayment and acquired the mortgage from BHP. The $8 million payment was due in April, Phillippe said Tuesday.

The tribe borrowed all but $52,000 of the remaining debt as part of a $20 million, 20-year loan it acquired that was backed by future revenue from its casino, Phillippe said.

It was important for the tribe to pay off the mortgage and "honor our debt," he said.

But the tribe had approached BHP about making a donation to help the tribe, given the tribe's long and costly legal fight against the mine, when the mining company offered the trust, with no strings attached, Phillippe said.

"They are not maintaining mineral rights or anything. We own it all," he said.

The offer left tribal leaders "flabbergasted," he said.

BHP was the last of a string of mining companies to own the land, including Exxon Coal and Minerals Co. of Houston.

The tribe will be the sole beneficiary of the $8 million endowment's annual $400,000 to $600,000 earnings, Phillippe said.

The money can only be used for certain things, such as education or environmental projects, the tribal leader said.

"It is not going to be used for industry building or for gaming," he said. "This is strictly for the people of the community."

A five-person advisory committee, including Madison Community Foundation President Kathleen Woit, director of American Indian studies at UW-Madison Ada Deer and representatives of both the tribe and the region, will recommend how the funds will be distributed to the community.

Gibson Pierce of Toronto, BHP's project director for closed mining, said, "Creating this fund signals our permanent exit from the project. Our goal with this endowment is to help the Sokaogon people build and sustain a vibrant community by allowing the mining project to add value at its final closure."

The Crandon mine had been disputed for years after the minerals were discovered in 1976 in a deposit described as one of the 10 largest ore bodies of its type in North America.

In 1994, Exxon and Rio Algom Ltd. of Toronto applied for state permits to mine 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore.

The regulatory review was expected to take about three years.

But a study by the state Department of Natural Resources never reached the point of recommending whether the project could be done without harming the environment, in part because new owners kept getting involved.

Exxon eventually sold out its interest to Rio Algom, which sold out to BHP.

In September 2002, BHP decided to close its Nicolet Minerals office in Crandon and sell the mine project to pursue more profitable ventures, leading to the sale to Northern Resources.

Over the years, the DNR billed the mining companies about $7 million to pay for the review, officials said in 2003.

Phillippe said Tuesday the land will be used for conservation purposes, such as public trails and parks, and the mining project will never be developed.

"The minerals underneath it are basically sacred from now on into eternity," he said. "We own it all."

For further background see:

Wolf River Protection Fund

Sokaogon Chippewa Community

Midwest Treaty Network

Defending a Common Home:
Native/non-Native Alliances against Mining Corporations in Wisconsin


By CHRIS SALTER, The Advertiser

31st May 2006

CRIMINAL charges have been laid against mining giant BHP Billiton over an explosion at the Olympic Dam mine that killed a father of two children.

The company - which operates the Roxby Downs uranium, copper and gold mine - has been charged with three counts of breaching the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act.

It is alleged the company failed to provide a safe work environment for three miners, including Karl Eibl who died after an explosion 500m underground on July 19 last year.

If found guilty, the company faces fines of up to $300,000.

The charges have been laid in the Industrial Relations Court following a report from SafeWork SA.

The court action comes as Karl Eibl's father, Bob, expressed his anger at not being able to obtain information regarding his son's death.

Almost a year since the explosion, he has been forced to lodge a freedom of information request with SafeWork SA to view its findings.

"There's no mention of what will happen," Mr Eibl said.

"We have only just got the coroner's report."

A SafeWork SA spokeswoman said it was procedure not to issue findings when legal action was pending.

"If there is no proposed legal action after an investigation is completed, the family is given the factual report on request," she said.

A coronial investigation into the Olympic Dam incident found Mr Eibl, 34, suffocated on dust caused by the explosion. Mr Eibl, who had worked at the mine for 12 years, was laying charges to connect two tunnels when machinery operated by two men drilling on the other side of the tunnel touched the charge, causing the explosion.

Mr Eibl, husband to Mandy and father of Nicholas, 8, and Liam, 6, died instantly.

The two other workers were taken to hospital after being overcome with toxic fumes.

Mine management told the Eibl family there was supposed to be a safe distance of 40m between those drilling and Mr Eibl. A miscalculation meant there was a distance of only about two metres.

Mr Eibl snr welcomed the court action but said: "A fine of $100,000 to them is like a cup of coffee to us. Unless they have to pay a substantial amount of money or get punished somehow, it will happen again. No amount of money is worth a life."

Mr Eibl said he would await the outcome of the court proceedings before deciding if he would lodge civil action.

BHP spokesman Richard Yeeles said it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on the incident while it was before the court.

A hearing is scheduled for the Industrial Relations Court next month. Located 560km north of Adelaide, Olympic Dam is the world's fourth-largest remaining copper deposit and the largest uranium deposit. It employs more than 3000 people.

A new support group for people who have lost family members in workplace accidents held its first meeting last night. Voice of Industrial Death was founded by Andrea Madeley whose son, Daniel, 18, died in an industrial accident. Independent MLC Nick Xenophon, who helped set up VOID, said the group could be contacted on 8237 9112.Ekati mine owner sues striking workers.

Ekati mineowners sue striking workers

Toronto Globe and Mail

22nd May 2006

YELLOWKNIFE -- Ekati diamond mine owner BHP Billiton Ltd. is suing its striking union for allegedly threatening and harassing workers who chose to return to the job.

In a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, the company outlines what it calls "illegal acts" by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and its affiliate Union of Northern Workers since the strike at the northern mine began April 7. BHP is seeking an injunction against the union and unspecified damages. It also claims the mine's customers and suppliers are being illegally harassed.

"The defendants are engaging in illegal acts with the intention of achieving a collective agreement on terms favourable or preferential to PSAC and UNW than could be achieved without the illegal acts," the statement of claim says.

A Friday court hearing on the injunction was adjourned to give the union more time to prepare. No new date was set.

PSAC represents about 385 of the mine's almost 1,000 employees and contract workers.

BHP's allegations include a worker being told he would be beaten up and his windshield smashed if he worked during the strike and an employee's 10-year-old son being coerced into pleading with his father to stay away from the job.

The company also claims the union picketed Ekati contractor Braden Burry Expediting in Yellowknife and prevented some vehicles from entering an airstrip.

As well, the statement of claim alleges union representatives occupied the Edmonton offices of Tundra Site Services on April 12, and refused to leave unless the company promised not to perform work normally done by BHP employees.

Allegations made in a statement of claim have not been proven in court. BHP said the mine is continuing full production without the company bringing in replacement workers.

Statement from the Union of Northern Workers

19th May 2006

BHP Billiton must respect its workers

Yellowknife: By using scabs at its Ekati diamond mine and by refusing to bargain in good faith with its 400 unionized workers, BHP Billiton is showing its contempt for Canadian workers.

According to the National President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) John Gordon, "if BHP Billiton wants to stay in Canada and continue to do business, it has to respect Canadian workers."

Gordon is in Yellowknife today to show his support to the 400 PSAC members at the Ekati diamond mine who have been on strike since April 7. The main issues in dispute are job security, seniority, holiday leave and wages. Despite having made 7.5 billion dollars in profit last year, BHP Billiton refuses to recognize the years of service of its employees and job security, is offering only a 1% wage increase. Furthermore, the company thinks that two weeks of holiday per year for such hard work is enough.

According to Gordon, "BHP loves to promote the fact that their diamonds are not tainted by blood as are diamonds produced in war-torn African countries like Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo. But right now, BHP production from the Ekati mine is tainted by corporate greed and unfair corporate behaviour," added the PSAC President.

Gordon also vowed to work with the Canadian labour movement for the adoption of federal anti-scab legislation. "There are currently two private members' bills proposing federal anti-scab legislation. The PSAC will work relentlessly to have legislation adopted. We will continue to lobby MPs and will tell them that working men and women in this country want a fair level-playing field when they are in a dispute with their employer. We want this basic right entrenched in law and adopted during this Parliament."

The 400 workers of the Ekati Diamond Mine became members of PSAC in July 2004. The Ekati mine is located 300 km northeast of Yellowknife and is owned by BHP Billiton, a multinational corporation based in Australia. PSAC members work as truck drivers, welders, process plant workers, crane operators, electricians and other occupations in the mine.

For information:

Dave Thompson, PSAC-North 1-867-445-3343
Larry Welsh, PSAC-North 1-867-445-7441
Pierre Lebel, PSAC Communications 1-613 293-4663

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