Trouble in Paradise: Placer Dome Leaves Legacy of Destruction on Tiny Pacific Island
Indigenous landowners affected by Misima mine on the vulnerable small Pacific island of Misima in Papua New Guinea have sent out a plea internationally to their government and the mining company Placer Dome to rectify its previous neglect and disregard for the interests of communities affected by the mine. Representatives of the landowners have travelled all the way to the nation's capital to meet with their Prime Minister and raise the concerns of their people.
The Mineral Policy Institute (Australia), MiningWatch Canada, and the Non-governmental Environmental Watch Group (PNG) condemn Placer's conduct at the mine site.
Placer Dome is seeking to cut and run from the mine, while the Governor of the Province where the mine is located has refused to sign off on the mine closure plan due to concern over unresolved social, environmental, and economic issues.
The plan was also completed without properly consulting the representative landowner associations who were party to the original mine agreement, and local level and provincial government officials input was not integrated into the closure plan. The company was also instrumental in setting up an association run by its own employee to represent the landowners, and local communities are highly critical of the capacity of a company employee to represent their interests to the company.
A cyanide spill into the ocean of the 7th of August, in admissions by the company, resulted in fish kills off the islands coast, redirected public attention to the remote island.
The results of initial investigations conducted by the Mineral Policy Institute suggest it is likely the incident may have been directly related to fast tracking the deconstruction of tailings facilities prior to decommissioning the cyanide tanks, and recommended a detailed independent investigation into the incident.
Placer's subsidiary offered the equivalent of less than one Australian dollar per person to persons affected by the spill, while weeks later, communities around Misima and the surrounding islands have continued to find dead fish, including reports of a whale floating onto the shore, and are still too frightened to fish or swim in the oceans.
"These companies do not tell us the truth. We read what happens in other places, and the mining company deny all the pollution and problems until the people do independent tests. Are these dead fish from the cyanide or from their other dumping of wastes into the oceans. We do not know, but we know that we can not always trust what the company says," stated Stanley Niga, chairman of landowners' representative group, Misima Towo Siung Association.
The mine uses the controversial practice of ocean dumping (submarine tailings disposal) utilised by a Newmont mine in Buyat Bay in Indonesia that was recently shut down for polluting the oceans and poisoning local communities. This practice is not permitted in countries such as Australia or Canada.
Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada says, "Once again Placer Dome is a source of shame in Canada for the failure to protect environments and communities abroad. We have long denounced Placer Dome's waste disposal in the sea at Misima; this practice is illegal in Canada. Placer's other waste disposal method in PNG, into a river at Porgera, is also illegal in Canada."
Landowners have issued a statement and set of demands to the company and their national government to address their concerns that includes release of all reports on this incident and a commitment to an independent review of the mine closure plans and ongoing environment impacts. These are available on the Internet at www.mpi.org.au.
"Placer Dome has exploited the good will and peaceful nature of the people of Misima, and their façade of corporate responsibility must crumble in the face of the atrocious legacy they have dumped upon the people of Misima." stated Techa Beaumont of the Mineral Policy Institute.
"The men and women of Misima and other mine sites are dependent upon their lands for their future. Mining companies need to respect their rights, including their customary relationships to their land, and their future reliance upon that land for their survival." stated Stewart Serawe of the NGO Environmental Watch Group, PNG.
Techa Beaumont, Mineral Policy
Institute: in PNG: 675- 686-8802
In Australia tel: 61-9557 9019
Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, in Canada: 613-569-3439 or 613-256-8331
Landowners: Stanley Niga, Chairman of MTSA, landowner association representing landowners and villages in the mine lease area of Misima Mines 675- 684 2424, or 675 643 7113 and Joe Broome, President Louisiade Rural Local Level Government (675) 643 7111
Misima Mine operates at one of the central mountain of the small island, with mine pits and waste dumps located at the headway of creeks and rivers that most of the islands populations rely on for freshwater resources. The mine has disturbed an estimated 1/3 of the island, with creeks and rivers along the south side of the island devastated by sediments and pollutants from the mine.
One river dried up completely after 9 bores were used to pump water to the mine for its use. Communities remain uncompensated for the loss and destruction of the river, and are now finding it difficult to meet all their freshwater needs. "This poses an enormous threat for the communities on the tiny island, and for those on outlying islands who also rely on trading with Misima for their food and other needs. These small islands are extremely vulnerable environments, and the subsistence livelihood of communities is delicately balanced. The mine's impacts on their ability get fresh water, grow gardens and utilise the fishery resources of their rivers and oceans is devastating, and these people have no where else to go," stated Techa Beaumont, who returned from a site inspection to the island.
Landowners expressed anger and frustration at the company's pollution of their oceans and the practise that has completely destroyed huge sections of the fringing coral reef around the island.
"The system of tailings disposal utilised on the island - submarine tailings disposal - this system they used was not properly explained to the people. If this was properly explained to us, the people would have questioned it. They should have given us information about experiences in the places in the world where it is practised, and we would have questioned and we would have declined that practice. Our island is so small and our oceans too precious. We have nowhere when our resources are destroyed," stated Ebia Kasawabi for the Siung Landowner Association, who represents the landowners whose resource have been most seriously affected by the mine. He went on to say:
"The system that they use for disposal is unacceptable, we were led to believe that nothing bad would happen, but bad things happened. With this recent cyanide spill, there was an admission from the company. But in the long run it will cost the people, it costs us psychologically. We had a meeting in Gaibobo village, and the company advised those who don't believe it is safe, you will stop yourselves from fishing, and those who do believe it is safe, you keep fishing. That is not an acceptable response. We need real proof that it is not harmful.
In the minds of the people, people are frightened. There is no guarantee that nothing will happen after the closure and relinquishment of the lease, after the company leaves that more bad effects won't happen. If something happens we face long term affects, there is no agreement that the company and government will help us."
"Placer Dome has stated in the mine closure plan that this is the first mine they will close in a developing country, and that it is a learning process. Yet Placer continues to refuse the one lesson that is necessary to sustain their claims to corporate responsibility. Rather than marginalising landowners groups, they must respect and learn from them, engaging them as equal partners in the closure process to ensure that local communities are not left with a legacy of destruction and failed projects." stated Techa Beaumont.