Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why do so now after the court case is filed??? Where were you before???

Group to study mine impact: MP


THE Department of Environment and Conservation will set up a committee to address environmental issues relating to Australian mining company Newcrest’s Hidden Valley mine in Morobe Province.
Minister for Environment and Conservation Benny Allen said this yesterday after returning from a visit to the mine site on Wednesday.
Mr Allen and his delegation visited the mine and villagers in Likwue in Upper Watut and Sambio in the middle Watut area.
He said various unions and NGOs had tried to address the issues of alleged mine pollution into the Watut River but these attempts never turned into tangible fruition.
He said the body would be called the Environmental Advisory Committee to be effective once Cabinet gave its approval.
The committee would be chaired by Secretary for Environment and Conservation and various government departments such as Health, Mineral Resource Authority.
Mr Allen said after paying a second visit – the last being during the constructional phase – he had consulted his technical team in the department which agreed that much of the damages to the Watut River was a result of sedimentation.
He said Watut was a high altitude area, thus when a lot of rocks and soil was removed during the constructional phase of the open pit mine, a lot of the sediment got into the river system. He admitted that the level of sedimentation that took place was way out of what was provided in the Environment Impact Studies (EIS), therefore the company would have to compensate the people who were affected.
Mr Allen said the company had compensated about 3000 people and was yet to pay 300 more which had cost the company about K3 million.
But he said he adviced the company not go ahead with the compensation payment but rather follow proper Government procedures.
He said from meeting with the company, Newcrest had built stone walls to prevent sediments from getting into the river system. He said the mine tailings were not dumped in the river system but were kept in a large pool and recycled and cleaned so it was environmental-friendly.
Mr Allen said what got into the river was acid from the rocks that were removed in the mining process.
However, he said this was not harmful to the river and fish because the Watut area had a high level of alkaline. He said the acid from the rocks only neutralises the acid level to a rate of that was within the acid compliance level.
Despite this Mr Allen said there was still a need to have proper water acid measurement of the river to confirm the cause of death of fish.
He admitted that the river colour had changed.
Mr Allen said they were putting an environment plan together to mitigate the harm caused by the mining activity.

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People told not to make public statements
The National- Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Bulolo MP Sam Basil who took the Morobe Mining Joint Venture company to court over pollution has called on people to stop making any public statement.
“I caution anyone, even the Minster for Environment and Conservation Benny Allan, who is believed to have flown to the mine site, his department and certain faction of the landowners like Rex Mauri, from making any statement on the environmental issues,” he said.
He said environmental issues and the effects of the pollution had severely affected the people and no one like Mauri who was eating from the company’s plate to make statements when people were suffering.
Basil said that the case was filed last Dec 14, through Nonggorr William lawyers.
He said that Mauri should stop using the media for his political gain and work together with suffering people.
He said the people he represented were landowners who lived adjacent to the Watut River and who continued to live within the special mining lease area that had been affected by the massive build up of sentiments, acid forming compounds, decrease of biomass of fish and prawns, causation of skin disease and pollution to washing and drinking water.
Basil said that as a mandated leader, he had to step in and allow the law to take its course than taking law into own hands.
He said Mauri should not claim that a handful of people were involved as the areas represented more than 100 people from the upper Watut, Mumeng and Wapar local level government areas.
He said they had the constitutional rights to exercise and not people like Mauri dictating them.

Nature builds up sediments

Nature builds up sediments
The National- Friday, January 21, 2011
AS Hidden Valley gold mine goes into mine commissioning and its operation phase, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) has become more aware of public concern over allegations that the mines construction activities are causing to Watut River.
However, after returning from a visit to the mine in Morobe this week, Environment and Conservation Minister Benny Allan, who was accompanied by Secretary Dr Wari Iamo and a team of experts, confirmed that the recent build up of sediments in Watut River was from natural causes besides mining activites.
“As a result of the public allegations, DEC has taken steps over the last 18 months to address these concerns in a proactive and diligent manner,” Allan said.
“On our visit to the mine in July 2009, during the construction phase, there was an open cut where amounts of gravel were causing a build up of sediments in the river as is the case for mines.
“While visiting the mine and the two villages of Leklu in the upper Watut and Sambio in the lower Watut areas, I and my contingent realised that the sedimentation had disrupted the flow of fish life in the river, the quality of water from the river and also food gardens for cash crops.
“In relation to these damages, the company had paid K3 million in compensation to the villages affected without DEC’s knowledge,” Allan said.
However, he said both villages expressed satisfaction that he and his team had visited them to hear first hand about the health and environmental issues experienced regarding the mine.
“The company is doing everything to stabilise the situation in which they have an excellent rehabilitation programme and measures to alleviate revegetation, replanting and soil erosion plans.
“Sedimentation right now is from natural processes as the mine disposals go directly into a pond for recycling which safeguards the river.”

Seabed Mining- Does DEC knows the environmental impact?

Monday 24th January, 2011

No to seabed mining

Why is our government rushing in dishing out exploration and mining licenses at an alarming rate?
Is it that we don’t have other options in export earnings to subsidise economic gains and improve social indicators as government, mining companies and Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) asserting?
Is mining sustainable and would improve the basic living conditions of the indigenous citizens of PNG like agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc are providing now?
Deep sea mining is the first of its kind in the world brought on by our leaders for testing hence the coastal people of New Ireland (NIP) and East New Britain (ENB) will be used as guinea pigs to test new technologies.
Our government through MRA dished out exploration licenses to Nautilus all over PNG waters.
Nearly 75 per cent of our seas are under exploration license areas of Nautilus but the Post-Courier page 3 Wednesday January 19 revealed project 1 is now granted mining lease.
Nautilus have 11 solwara project sites and imagine how all Solwara projects will affect our sea and people depending on it for 20-50 years and beyond.
MRA and Department of Mining is foolish in brain and or self-centred by the lust for money than the protection and love for the land, sea and environment as God directed human kind to treasure and be managers over them.
ENB and NIP please stand up and voice your concern like Madang people against Ramu Nickel!
You can get your sea back and enjoy the beauty and providence of the sea through God than being lured by typical empty promises of the international mining corporations!

Duwigon Iyampon, POM

Digging through Sand to mine alluvial gold

Sand deposit making it difficult to access alluvial deposits.

Sand banks build up along Watut River.

Letter to the Environment Minister Hon. Benny Allen

Copy of
Letter to Minister for Environment and Conservation 20th January 2011.

I wish to brief you on the Watut River Damage Claim and I request that your Department take urgent and appropriate action.

In October 2010, groups of customary Landowners along the Watut River complained to me that the Hidden Valley Joint Venture (HVJV) had caused massive damage to the Watut and were however trying to get Landowners to sign statutory declarations to submit to an 'Improvement Compensation procedure" and accept a small amount of compensation of up to K1200 per Landowner for the massive damage to the River and the surrounding land. Of further concern, the Landowners were also complaining of skin rashes and stomach complaints due to contamination of the water by HHJV, as well as all fish life in the river being dead.

The mine owners, Australian Newcrest and South African Harmony Gold which are the companies that own 50% each in the HHJV, have admitted on Harmony's website the existence of higher levels of sedimentation in the river that had been caused by mine operations. They did not however explain why the fish in the river had died, why the landowners were experiencing medical problems and why vegetation along the river was dying back.

It was then exposed that HVJV had underestimated the amount of overburden that had needed to be removed in the construction of the mine, but without any structural alteration had stored the excessive amounts in the planned interim waste dumps. Further, HVJV did not even construct competent waste dumps as there were insufficient competent fresh hard rock - but went ahead with the construction of the mine. These dumps failed with the first big rains sending millions of tonnes of metaliferous overburden (containing iron pyrites and other metals) into the Watut River. As there was meant to be no discharge of waste into the Watut, none of the landowners down the river were part of any pre-existing compensation agreement as would have been required under the Mining Act if any damage was a predicted consequence.

Additionally HVJV failed to construct retaining dams at the Kaveroi and Watut catchments and 18 months after construction began, none of the retaining constructions were even commenced and all side casting by HVJV was going straight into the Watut and Kaveroi catchment creeks.

Both ore and waste at the Hidden Valley Mine were predicted to be and are susceptible to acid generation, so should have been and should be handled with great care, which clearly has not been the case.

I announced by way of press release on 27 October 2010, that was reported in the PNG national newspapers, that I was very concerned that HVJV was approaching Landowners to accept minimal compensation, without any independent verification of the nature and extent of the damage to the Watut and surrounding land and that I was going to investigate into both the scientific facts and the legality of the situation and that if the signing of the statutory declarations was inappropriate for the landowners and also if it affected their rights to compensation in any way, legal proceedings would be commenced. I publically requested HVJV to cease the statutory declaration compensation procedure.

A letter was sent from the lawyers for HVJV Blake Dawson (a large Australian Law Firm) to the lawyers for the landowners on 3 November stating that should any legal proceedings be commenced to stop the payments (the statutory declaration signings), then they should be given reasonable notice so HVJV may be represented in the proceedings.

Discussions then took place between the myself and members of the HVJV, and HVJV requested that a meeting take place between the myself and my advisors and HVJV to try and resolve the issue through negotiation.

The meeting took place on 26 November 2010. At the meeting, I agreed that I would not immediately commence legal proceedings on behalf of the Landowners, on the basis that the issue of the pollution of the Watut would initially be resolved by a process, particularly:-

• That MMJV would provide all relevant documents and reports
• That the Landowner advisory team would visit the site
• That both sides would draft terms of reference and suggest members of an independent review team
• That the parties would meet in late January 2011 and should the respective teams differ in their scientific evaluation of the problems with the Watut – an independent scientific team would be put in place to assess the situation
• That the amounts of compensation and rehabilitation would be determined after the scientific assessments were completed.

On 13 December, it was reported to me that over the weekend of 11-12 December HVJV teams were still approaching Landowners on the Watut River asking them to sign the statutory declarations which confirmed their submission to the compensation process as outlined in the MOA – which they are not even party to- and accept an arbitrary amount of compensation. This conduct by HVJV was contrary to the spirit and express agreement by the parties on 26 November 2010.

As HVJV had continued with the process, I, as representative of 110 named customary landowners on the Watut River had lawyers file a Writ of Summons in the National Court in Lae, Morobe Province, on 14 December 2010 claiming against the corporate entities that make up HVJV, damages and other relief on the basis of Nuisance and Negligence, which was the dumping of the waste into the Watut River.

HVJV again when learning of the filing of the Court proceedings, requested that they be withdrawn so that negotiations could continue. I agreed to continue to negotiate on the basis that:-
• We, being the landowners and myself would continue to attempt to co-operatively resolve the Watut pollution issues – in the manner as outlined in the 26 November 2010 meeting, and
• The proceedings would not be withdrawn but that the proceedings would not be served and that the proceedings would only be served in February 2011 in the event that the negotiations in late January2011 failed, and
• We would however serve the proceedings earlier should HVJV continue to attempt to influence any Watut landowners to sign the statutory declarations OR should MMJV conduct awareness on these issues to the affected landowners.
• HVJV should issue a joint press release setting out the situation

This was communicated to the lawyers of HVJV on Thursday 16 and Friday 17 December 2010.

HHJV, through its lawyers responded on 20 December 2010 that they would continue with the process of the statutory declaration signing and we should still withdraw the proceedings.

We informed HHJV through our lawyers on 20 December 2010 that I had issued a press release to inform the landowners and the community of the situation, that I still demanded that the statutory declaration and compensation procedure cease - so that the independent scientific verification could be made.

On 20 December we were informed through the lawyers for HVJV that unless the Writ was withdrawn there would be no negotiations.

On 28 December I was again informed by Landowners that HVJV had continued visiting villages along the Watut to request villagers sign the statutory declarations and for payments of minimal compensation to be made. I advised HVJV through lawyers that

• HHJV immediately cease this behaviour; particularly that they desist from inducing further signatures and cease payments.
• Should HHJV cease this behaviour, then the landowners would be prepared to proceed with their scientific team visiting the site on 24 January 2011 and following that, agree to a meeting with the scientists, the lawyers and the parties to take place in Port Moresby on 31 January 2011
• Should HHJV continue inducing landowners to sign these statutory declarations and continue to make these payments, the Writ would be served
HHJV responded on 30 December 2010 stating that they refused to stop inducing Landowners to sign statutory declarations submitting to the HHJV compensation procedure nor making payments.
Landowner groups then complained to me that HVJV was using bullying tactics and cheating their communities. I was told that HVJV spent the last week of December delivering cheques to communities to allegedly compensate for the damage caused by toxic pollution from the mine to garden trees and crops. The money ranges from K20 to K4000 (AU$8 – $1600).
At the same time as receiving the payments, the communities, who were earlier forced to sign a Statutory Declaration without any explanation and blank ‘Valuation Sheets’, were now made to sign what are called ‘Damage Assessment Payment Receipt Forms’. These forms, written by HVJV, state:
I (claimant name), herby state that this claim represents a true and correct assessment of damage and that I accept the assessment carried out by MMJV officers as being adequate. I agree that I will make no further claim for economic improvements damages will be made in respect of the garden area and improvements described above, and that this damages assessment payment for economic trees and plants is payment in full and final satisfaction of my claim
Unfortunately given HVJV’s attitude,we had no option but to serve the legal proceedings which we did on 5 and 6 January 2010.
The claim by the landowners is for damages to be paid for the massive damage to the Watut, for the river to be rehabilitated and for the mine to cease operations until the nuisance ceases and proper waste dumps are constructed, erosion controls are properly implemented and the river rehabilitated. They are also seeking punitive damages.
We deny that the commencing and service of these legal proceedings prevent any further negotiations in this matter nor does it affect the establishment of an expert technical advisory panel as a vehicle to resolve the “sedimentation” and pollution issues. An issue that must be determined by the parties or by the court will be the nature and extent of the damage to the Watut and its peoples. This can only be completed by scientific evaluation. The next issue to be determined by the parties or the Court would be the amount of damages and what can be done to rehabilitate the river and also to prevent this type of disaster from occurring again into the future.
HHJV has on one hand pretended to be willing to negotiate with the landowners and their representative on the issues of “sedimentation” and pollution of the river, after concerns were raised me as to the statutory declaration compensation process, but have in complete bad faith, whilst the Landowners agreed to not file proceedings , continued to induce customary landowners to sign the statutory declarations and accept negligible amounts of compensation.
HHJV claim in their press release that the negotiations had nothing to do with the statutory declaration process, when in fact, it was that process that raised the threat of legal proceedings by the landowners in the first place, as can be seen from the initial correspondence from Blake Dawson.
A specialist scientific team will be visiting the site on behalf of the Landowners in late January 2011 to undertake their assessment of the nature and extent of the damage to the land and riverine rights of the Landowners, and should HVJV not participate in negotiations, the Landowners will pursue their commenced litigation vigorously.
The issue of the miner and the destruction they have caused should not be left for the landowners to resolve on their own and your department should take the lead in holding the ,miner to account and to force them to not only properly compensate the landowners but also to rehabilitate the river and your department must take steps to ensure that this sort of behaviour – from destroying the river to conning the landowners into signing documents and accepting negligible compensation NEVER happens again.

Yours faithfully

Honourable Sam Basil MP
Member for Bulolo Open Electorate