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Eurobodalla Shire Council’s general manager Catherine Dale has prepared a damning submission to the state government against Unity Mining’s proposed changes to its Dargues Gold Mine.
The submission, which will be considered by councillors on Tuesday, asks NSW Planning to refuse proposed modifications to the project’s development consent, including the introduction of cyanide processing at the mine, which sits at the headwaters of the Eurobodalla’s water supply.
Dr Dale’s submission was prepared following receipt of a draft report by GHD consultant Peter Beck, commissioned by Eurobodalla and Palerang councils.
Dr Beck advised Unity had failed to adequately address all of the additional risks associated with its proposed modifications and raised specific concerns about long-term leaching from the tailings dam, which he said would contain contaminants not considered in detail in Unity’s Environmental Assessment (EA).
Further, Dr Beck said the EA underestimated potential environmental impacts and its “limited analysis” focused on “potentially positive outcomes”.
Dr Dale’s proposed submission states council believes a “reasonable person” would conclude gold processing with cyanide at Dargues presented an “unacceptable risk” to the community’s water supply.
Of greatest concern, she said, was containment of cyanide in the dam.
Dr Dale said the dam’s proposed barrier system did “not even meet the standard required of a municipal solid waste landfill”, despite containing “toxic heavy metals that have a significantly greater reactive life than municipal solid waste”.
“It is not a matter of if the tailings storage facility will leak, but when,” Dr Dale states.
“By far the most significant consequence would result from a catastrophic failure of the tailings storage facility.
“As the proposed mine life is just eight years and the reactive life of the tailings is centuries, catastrophic failure would more than likely occur as a result of erosion of the embankment long after the mine operations have ceased.
“The consequence of such a failure is that tens of thousands of tonnes of waste tailings are released into the drinking water catchment.”
Dr Dale said the dam was “inappropriately located” and raised detailed concerns about proposed bunding, the cyanide destruction process and tailing and supernatant water management.
She said the proposal was a “clear breach” of the proponent’s previous commitment to the community that no cyanide would be used on site, and that she was concerned about project creep, as well as the potential for operator error, accidents or sabotage resulting in discharge of toxic cyanide compounds from the site.
“The proponent has already breached environmental standards causing pollution of Majors Creek during the mine construction phase,” the proposed submission states.
“These actions, poor management and prosecutions, illustrate the complete lack of care, commitment and control that the proponent has for basic environmental management controls and legal requirements.
“Yet the proponent now asks the community to trust it with the handling, storage, use and on-site disposal of toxic chemicals and poisonous process by-products.
“Rather than striving to achieve best practice, the proponent proposes a design that fails to even achieve recognised standards.”
Councillors will on Tuesday vote whether to endorse Dr Dale’s submission and lodge the document before submissions close on Wednesday, August 26.