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Mine waste debate divides Huon people

Huon dumpingSCOTT WAIDE
| My Land, My Country

LAE - Papua New Guinea’s environment minister has tried to ease tensions over the proposal to dump mine waste into Huon Gulf in Morobe Province.

Wera Mori says it has not been decided if tailings from the K17 billion Wafi-Golpu project will be disposed using deep sea tailing. But he also admitted that the construction of a tailings dam is not part of the plan.

“We have not decided yet,” Mori said. “As minister, I have to be satisfied that the operation will be safe.”

Last week Mori and officials from the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority met with people in coastal villages in the Huon Gulf District.

The meetings brought to light serious concerns about environmental damage.

Giwi Afio, a woman from Asini village on the Salamua Coast said: “The men can say ‘yes’, but for me as a woman, I see a lot of problems ahead.”

The meetings were reminiscent of a similar process a decade ago in Madang Province when the government tried to convince Raicoast villagers to accept the dumping of mine waste by the Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel mine.

This eventually led to protests and a lengthy court battle which was eventually withdrawn by the landowners.

Despite, a petition of signed by more than 7,000 villagers, approval was given to proceed with the deep sea tailings option.

In October 2019, more than 200,000 liters of toxic slurry spilled from the processing plant into Basamuk Bay.  The government ordered the closure of the plant.

Minister Wera Mori said the Basamuk spill was due to a plant failure and not  the failure of the deep sea tailings system.

Morobe’s large Lutheran population also extended the people’s voice when the Lutheran Church asserted that the environment needs to be protected.

Lutheran bishop Dr Jack Urame called for strong environment stewardship.

The Lutheran voice is important in the political discourse of Morobe.

The government sees this project as a huge catalyst for change and an economic saviour, not just for Morobe but for the rest of Papua New Guinea.


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Arthur Williams

What I note from a report in The National was a minister suggesting it is a safer project that the filthy disposal at Simberi, Lihir and Ramu because in the Huon system the muck is deposited at 200 metres not the 150 metres of the earlier three polluting sites.

The flip side of that must be he believes the three are not satisfactory…took 20 years for admitting that in the case of Lihir.

In first year of the Lihir mine, the government's OIC was dismayed when he couldn’t get any more shellfish from the sea off Kapit village just across from the gold refinery. That was right at start of dumping tailings.

Wonder what it’s like now after the expansion of dumping on the beach in front of the Holy Rock?

That area was once a turtle reserve when I was there in 1998/99. Recently the mining has moved along the coast causing the complete removal of all the Kapit villagers’ homes.

Paul Oates

Now where have we heard all this before?

Only everywhere else and especially in the developing world. It seems like there is an inexorable contest between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.

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