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Closed Gold Ridge mine triggers concern

UNTIL April 2014, Gold Ridge was the sole operating mine in the Solomon Islands and contributing approximately 20 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. But not all that glitter is gold. After the departure of the Australian Mining Company St Barbra – the mother company of Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) – the risk of cyanide leak from the tailing dam has exacerbated by the day partly due to the recent spell of rainy weather.

When Tropical Cyclone Raquel hits Solomon in June, the Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology Samuel Manetoali declared a “state of disaster” at the mine site situated 30 kilometres south-east of the capital Honiara. This followed threats of rising water from the tailings dam due to the heavy rain TC Raquel brought in. Controlled draining of the dam has been long overdue after GRML abandoned Gold Ridge last year and offered to sell it for a mere AU$100. Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited (GCIL) comprising landowners then purchased the mine and signed a ‘sale deed’ plus a ‘deed of indemnity’ in May 2015 with St Barbara.

St Barbara agreed to fund on behalf of GRML the manufacture, delivery and installation of a replacement water treatment plant at a cost of approximately AU$1 million. St Barbara also agreed to provide technical advice and assistance to GCIL for a period of six months following the sale.

Questions still remain however on just how St Barbara could abandon the mine then offered to sell it for a mere $100. Policy Secretary for Resources Sector in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chris Vehe revealed to Islands Business the total ore reserve at Gold Ridge could be used up in three years if current processing plant capacity is re-engaged by a new investor. “On top of that gold deposits in Gold Ridge are of low grade when compared to other world class deposits in other parts of the globe. 

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