23rd Community Consultative Committee Meeting (21/03/2017): questions for the mining company

I raised the following with Diversified Minerals ahead of the 23rd Community Consultative Committee (CCC) meeting, which was held at the mine site near Major’s Creek on 21/03/2017. The company’s responses (and non-responses) will be published in the minutes, which are to be posted on the Diversified Minerals website, here.

1. Several toxic reagents, including potassium amyl xanthate, copper sulphate pentahydrate, and nitric acid (or substitute), are to be used in the flotation plant during the separation of gold-bearing ore from waste material (tailings). Will any trace of these chemicals be present in the tailings, in the TSF, or in the paste fill? What will be the life cycle of these chemicals on-site, from transport to disposal and thereafter? Ref: Environmental Assessment, RWC (2010), part 2.6.6, and EA, RWC, (2015) part [p.50].

2. The company is proceeding with the Dargues gold mine despite established disapproval from the community and broader public (as evidenced by the overwhelming majority of written submissions, speeches before the PAC, and petition). The company has a significant public relations challenge ahead, especially with respect to trust and credibility. Does the company intend to liaise with the community and the Committee in an open, honest and transparent way (including the volunteering of information such as non-compliance and pollution), and to answer project-related questions directly and completely?

3. Does the company (Dargues Gold Mine, Big Island Mining, Unity Mining, Diversified Minerals, PYBAR, or any subsidiary or other associated entity) intend to expand the Dargues project or pursue any mining exploration or activity in this catchment or region beyond the current modification (3)?

4. It is my understanding that the mining lease originally required a rehabilitation security deposit of $2.6 million, and that this was reduced to $730,000 in 2014. Why did this reduction occur, and should not the bond be increased commensurate with the expansion of the mine under modifications 1 through 3? What is the current amount set for the rehabilitation bond, and how was it calculated?

5. Does the company commit to the community of this region and water catchment that it will actually complete rehabilitation of the land and TSF capping to the prescribed standards? Does this commitment extend beyond the surviving lines of the company’s ‘Statement of Commitments,’ which the company modifies at its convenience? Will the company forfeit the bond and abandon or defer the task of rehabilitation if it is financially favourable for the company to do so?

6. What is the current conservation bond amount, how is it decided and has it undergone similar changes?

7. Independent Compliance Audit: (a) What is meant by the word ‘independent’, as used to describe the compliance audit carried out by Senversa? Senversa’s report indicates (Introduction, p. 1) that the directive for the compliance audit was issued by the Department of Environment to Big Island Mining on (15/07/2016), who hired Senversa directly. A consultant is not independent from a client; on the contrary Senversa is dependent on the proponent for their business, the provision of information, and for their own reputation to future industry clients. Senversa is as independent as R.W. Crokery & Co, whom the company has paid to argue its case to the government and public since 2010. The obvious must be stated: Senversa has a vested interest in attaining a favourable outcome for their client; their business model depends on it.

In Section 4.0 of the Compliance Audit (Principles and Limitations of Investigation, p. 20), Senversa states: “The audit report has been prepared to demonstrate that the conditions of approval under EPBC Act for the site have been complied with [my emphasis].” By the consultant’s own wording, the purpose of the report is to demonstrate – rather than investigate – compliance. The report goes on: ‘The scope of work performed as part of the audit process may not be appropriate to satisfy the needs of any… person [other than Big Island Mining]. Any other person’s use of, or reliance on, the audit document and report, or the findings, conclusions, recommendations or any other material presented to them, is at that person’s sole risk,’ (p.20). In other words, this report was not written to serve the government who ordered it, let alone the community whom the company’s compliance or non-compliance will ultimately affect.

(7b) The audit report assesses only three criteria for actual (physical, on-the-ground) compliance: that the project is operating within site boundaries, that the surface area of the critically endangered Natural Temperate Grasslands to be disturbed/destroyed does not exceed 0.2 hectares, and that ground and surface water monitoring is underway. The rest of the report is concerned with bureaucratic compliance – that is, it merely identifies the presence of certain written material in the company’s plans and protocols. It can tell us nothing of operational compliance, as the mine is not yet operational. When is the next ‘independent’ audit scheduled, and will the auditor once again be selected and contracted by the company in the same client – consultant relationship?

(7c) Senversa’s audit report references ANZECC (Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council) guidelines, finding the company compliant in their use of ANZECC trigger values for ground and surface water monitoring. However, the use of trigger values is only the final (6th) step in ANZECC’s ‘steps in decision-making for a healthy environment’, the rest of which are outside the auditor’s points of reference. The first step is that ‘Environmental values and human uses [are] determined by the community for their waterways;’ the second is that ‘water quality objectives [be established to] represent the community’s values for each water catchment in the state,’ (http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/water/usinganzeccandwqos.htm). Without any substantive community consent for the use of the Spring Creek/Deua River/Moruya River catchment for the the purpose of gold mining, and the wholesale rejection of the community’s environmental values and wishes by the proponent and approval authorities, the Dargues gold mine cannot be said to be compliant with the actual principles and intent of the Conservation Council’s guidelines.

8. An EPBC approval for Modification 3 was issued on 17/02/2017 (http://epbcnotices.environment.gov.au/_entity/annotation/8a6d6b86-d6f4-e611-88e4-005056ba00a7/a71d58ad-4cba-48b6-8dab-f3091fc31cd5?t=1489925347245). The CCC could reasonably expect to have been notified of this by the company.

9. What is the status of the CEMP (Construction Environmental Management Plan) required as a condition of the EPBC approval above (Condition 2, p.2)?

10. The EPBC approval requires that the company include a self-auditing program (Condition 2[g], p.2). Should the public be anything but amused by this? Maybe someday we’ll all share a joke about it.

11. What has occurred on-site since the last meeting, and what are the company’s immediate works and plans?

12. The meeting of the company with the Eurobodalla Shire Council (14/12/2016) is of clear interest to the community members of the CCC. Please inform the Committee of any such meetings and their purpose and outcome. A private meeting between a mining company and a shire council can hardly be considered appropriate unless accompanied by the publication of minutes or other record.

Thank you,

Tom Wells

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