MEDIA RELEASE – 20 December 2017


Gippsland Environment Group has condemned the Victorian Government’s decision to lift the mining licence exemption over the Stockman mine’s toxic tailings dam constructed on the headwaters of the Tambo River near Benambra.

The Minister for Resources decision to amend the licence will permit the toxic tailings dam to be re-opened and expanded by CopperChem the company which has recently acquired Independence Group’s Stockman Project

“This is a murky deal that will jeopardise the health of the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes for thousands of years,” said Louise Crisp of Gippsland Environment Group. “On what grounds was the exemption lifted and why weren’t the public and downstream farmers and communities consulted?”

“The Benambra copper and zinc mine was first operated by Denehurst Pty Ltd from 1992-96, until the company went bust and abandoned the mine site.  The company left behind a leaking tailings dam filled with 700,000 tonnes of toxic heavy metal tailings at risk of breaching and flooding the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes.

In 2006 the State Government rehabilitated the tailings dam at a cost of $7million to the taxpayer. The dam was renamed Lake St Barbara and an exemption placed over the site to exclude it from any future mining licence.

The dam is still leaking polluted water at a rate of 86,000 litres per day into the headwaters of the Tambo River, the ore used to raise the dam wall to prevent it breaching contained potential acid forming material, and an acid seep from the old processing plant is also contaminating the Tambo River.

In 2014 Independence Group proposed to re-open the Stockman mine and massively expand the tailings dam to store up to another seven million tonnes of mine tailings. The company planned to raise the dam wall up to 45 metres above the valley floor and to increase the surface area of the dam from eight to 32 hectares.

In December this year Australian company CopperChem  purchased Independence Group’s Stockman Project. At the same time the Victorian Minister for Resources Tim Pallas announced that CopperChem had signed a deal with the State Government to fund the ongoing management of the tailings dam after mining has ended. The tailings must remain covered by two metres of water forever to prevent an acid chain reaction occurring.

When interviewed on ABC radio last week the Minister would not divulge the financial details of the Trust Fund which is intended to fund the management of the tailings dam in perpetuity.

“The community has a right to know what CopperChem’s financial contribution is to the Trust Fund and whether the Victorian taxpayer is also making a contribution,” said Ms Crisp.  “How can the State Government possibly calculate what it will cost to maintain a massively expanded dam filled with toxic tailings and keep the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes safe for the next thousand years?”

The Minister for Resources also failed to mention that he had signed off on an amendment to the mining licence exemption which will now permit the tailings dam to be expanded and become operational again. There was no public consultation regarding the amendment. CopperChem has now submitted an application to Earth Resources for an infrastructure mining licence over the tailings dam.

“The rehabilitation of the abandoned tailings dam in 2006 came at a great financial cost to the taxpayer and the exemption excluding it from any mining operations forever was put there for good reason,” said Ms Crisp. “Why has the exemption been lifted? What advice has the Minister received about the risks to the Tambo River from an expanded tailings dam constructed right across its headwaters?  How much will it cost the taxpayer to remediate a much larger tailings dam, the second time around?”

The decision by the State Government to abrogate its ongoing responsibility for the tailings dam is foolhardy and incomprehensible. The Resources Minister’s action to remove the exemption over the tailings dam puts the future of the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes at risk of catastrophic environmental damage.

See attached: Minister’s amendment of the licence exemption

Further reading is available at the Stockman Mine page

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