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Spread of mine sparks fears

by Narelle TowieThe Sunday Times

HARD YAKKA: Ninga Mia residents protest against the encroaching KCGM super pit. Picture: Tony Holmes.

Kalgoorlie's super pit may be the goose that laid the golden egg, but moves to expand Australia's biggest goldmine are being bitterly opposed by neighbours.

WA's top mining engineer does not believe it has been proven that there will be no risk in enlarging the Kalgoorlie Super Pit to within 200m of homes and roads.

The pit extension has been recommended for approval by the Environment Protection Authority.

But the approval flies in the face of serious concerns raised by the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection.

Emails from DOCEP state mining engineer Martin Knee to an EPA senior-assessment officer cautioned that the project's technical blast report lacked "sufficient risk information''.

"This new document does not appear to me to provide sufficient risk information to enable the conclusion to be drawn that risk from fly-rock is as low as reasonably achievable,'' Mr Knee wrote on December 4, 2007, before the EPA's recommendations.

"In fact, it does not seem to address the absolute value of the risk involved in either a quantitative or a qualitative fashion.

"There may be nothing wrong with this approach, however, my contention is simply that is does not, in fact, even address the issue of whether the risk involved is as low as reasonably achievable.''

As gold prices rise to nearly $US1000 an ounce, joint owners of the controversial Kalgoorlie Super Pit mine, Newmont Mining and Barrick Gold, want to dig deeper.

They propose to extend the depth of their quarry to 600m, a feat that will uncover billions of dollars of gold and prolong the mine's life by another five years -- to 2017.

The problem is to keep the pit walls stable. As the hole goes deeper, it must also go outwards.

The site is mostly bordered by waste dumps that are full of cyanide and hypersaline water so the mine can extend only towards Boulder.

Last December the EPA advised WA Environment Minister David Templeman to approve the expansion, called the Golden Pike Cutback, as long as mining operations would not occur within 400m -- a previously agreed minimum "safe'' distance from flying rock, noise and dust pollution -- of properties zoned residential.

This means homes classed otherwise, such as those zoned rural or light industrial, will be inside the safety exclusion zone -- 200m from the edge of a 600m-deep hole.

The pit's destiny is now in the hands of Mr Templeman.

Environmental campaigners and Kal- goorlie-Boulder residents are accusing the mine of putting money before safety. They say people will be allowed to walk into a public street that will be within 150m of rock blasting.

In an environmental report, Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines said it believed "the performance of its operation and management programs showed that a mining operation of this nature could operate in close proximity to a community without adverse impact or the need for a large buffer zone''.

The local indigenous Ninga Mia community says the levels of noise and dust from mining operations are making them sick.

"They are trying to surround us with waste dumps and drive us out of our homes,'' Ninga Mia resident Lynette Morrison said.

When asked about the Ninga Mia complaints KCGM's general manager, Russell Cole said: "In the absences of any formal complaints to us by Ninga Mia or any government department, we can only assume we have a good relationship with this community.
"We encourage anyone from Ninga Mia to contact us if they have any concerns.''

Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mayor Ron Yuryevich said the Government had not yet responded to his calls for a guarantee the pit would be stable after its extension.

Over 18 months, 86 blasts will be required to complete the first four benches of the Golden Pike Cutback.

According to KCGM's public environmental review document, of these blasts, 58 will have a potential blast clearance area of less than 400m.

EPA chairman Paul Vogel declined to comment.


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