Gold Ridge tailings dam scare

Gold Ridge tailing dam.

Gold Ridge tailing dam. Photo credit: Stephen Diisango.

THE controlled de-watering of Gold Ridge tailings dam in central Guadalcanal is reportedly gone out of control due to heavy rain in the area.

Downstream villagers have lodged complaints to health authorities in the past week about the safety of the water that was released into their streams.

This had prompted teams from the Ministry of Health’s Environment Division and Guadalcanal Province Health Division to visit the dam early this week.

The Solomon Star reports:

Pictures sent to the Solomon Star saw water from the tailings dam flowing freely into the nearby streams.

“From our observation, the dewatering process appeared to be out of control,” one of the members of the team visiting the site told the Solomon Star.

“Due to the heavy rain in the area over the past few days, water from the dam was allowed to flow freely through the spillway into the streams below,” the officer said.

He said the team had taken samples of the water, which will be tested for its safety in the coming days.

The officer added that they were surprised authorities overseeing the dewatering process have excluded the Ministry of Health in the exercise.

“It’s the Ministry of Health’s technical officers who should be heavily involved in the process.

“They are the ones who should be manning the dam’s spillway, taking samples every time the tailings water are released to ensure no contaminated water is released into the environment.”

The dewatering process started late last month.

Guadalcanal premier Anthony Veke yesterday confirmed technical officials from his province were dispatched to the tailing dam site because of the heavy rain in the area.

MrVeke said the directive given to the officers was to get an independent report on the ground following the rain in the last few days.

“With the level of rain in the last few days, we are of the view that it will put the lives of our people living downstream at risk,” MrVeke said.

“Therefore, we decided to send a team to collect information on the dewatering process in the area,” he added.

MrVeke said the team should arrive in Honiara today and will produce a report to the Premier’s office.

The premier also pointed out that Guadalcanal has been left out in the process of consultation of the tailings dam dewatering process.

“We have not been seen as an authority that needs to be informed of the tailings dam dewatering process.

“Therefore, we decided to do our own investigation of the situation,” he said.

The Solomon Star understands the Minister of Health and his Permanent Secretary have been briefed about the situation yesterday.

Secretary of Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited (GCIL), the local company that now owns Gold Ridge mine site, Benjamin Afuga, said water released from the dam are treated.

He said any claim to do with contamination of the river downstream must come from a specialist.

“I just received a report from Dr Simon Albert of University of Queensland who carried out an assessment from the top of Metapona river and downstream,” Mr Afuga said.

“The report did not mention anything about contamination,” he added.

Chairman of Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) Walton Naezon earlier said the de-watering process will take about three months to complete.

He said one cubic meter of the treated water from the facility will be discharged into the nearby river.

“After the dewatering of the one cubic meter of water from this dam, we will make sure that the remaining waters are treated and dewatered.

“This is one of the company’s priorities to make sure that the six meters of cubic water content in this dam are dewatered this year,” Mr Naezon added.

According to operators of the tailings dam treatment plant, about 550 cubic meters of water are expected to be treated per hour and the treatment duration will take up to 59 days.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Dr Melchior Mataki said during the course of the dewatering, the ministry will work alongside the company to make sure that the company complies with the conditions of its licence.

Source: Solomon Star/Solomon Today Post