Work is underway to set up the site at the Snowy River mine near Reefton, which borders Victoria Forest Park.
A company with an ambitious plan to produce 700,000 ounces of gold from its West Coast mine now wants to process the gold with cyanide on-site rather than ship it to Otago.
Federation Mining received a $15 million loan from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund to expand the Snowy River mine in Waiuta, near Reefton.
It is now seeking approvals from Buller District Council and West Coast Regional Council to build a processing plant and water treatment plant and to increase the size of its waste rock.
The mine is near two historic gold mines that the government spent $3.6 million to clean up in 2017. Arsenic levels in the mines were among the highest measured anywhere in the world.
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Federation Mining said it strives to adopt best practices to protect the environment.
The Snowy River flows through the mine site bounded by Victoria Forest Park. There are currently 47 people employed in tunneling operations and it is expected to employ more than 110 people when the mine goes into full production in 2024.
Federation Mining is in the process of acquiring the mine from OceanaGold, which has resource claims granted in 2014 for two tunnels approximately 8400m in length to discharge surface water, groundwater and contaminants onshore and indirectly into the Snowy River.
The processing facility was not included in the original resource permit as OceanaGold intended to ship the ore to its now closed Reefton or Macraes facility in Otago for processing.
The permit application states that moving the ore off-site was no longer the most practical or efficient option.
The new application to Buller County Council states that the processing structures would sit on land that has previously been used for farming and gold dredging.
“A small part of the infrastructure will affect the native vegetation (ie the regenerating mixed beech forest). This vegetation is considered to be of no conservation importance.
“Although the river is currently in good condition, it does not have a particularly high conservation value.”
The Company expects to extract and process 4 million tonnes of ore and produce 2 million tonnes of waste rock – 50% of which will be recycled underground and the remainder placed in a clay-lined waste rock pile that will eventually be covered with native plants.
The gold would be extracted from the ore using cyanide, which would be shipped to the plant in 1 tonne bulk bags opened in a dust box and then detoxified in tanks, dried and discharged into an underground bunker.
OceanaGold has planted more than 800,000 trees since 2016 to restore the former gold mine site near Reefton. (File video first released August 2022)
The Company also wants a new water treatment system at the site to deal with the leachate from the waste rock pile by diverting stormwater and streams around the mine and building treatment ponds to remove other contaminants such as arsenic and nitrogen (used in explosives) from the water remove.
The location would not disturb the beech forest and would reduce truck movements from 26 to 10 per day, they say.
The application says the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been consulted and has not raised any issues with the leftover materials — known as tailings — returning underground. Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae supported development as long as it stayed within agreed environmental boundaries.
The Buller District Council has not yet made a decision as to whether the application will be publicly notified.
The regional council said the application would be processed with limited notification. It was currently on hold awaiting approvals from the concerned party of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae and DOC.
Genevieve Robinson, a homeowner on Snowy River Rd who is running for a seat on Canterbury Regional Environment Council this year, said she was concerned about the impact the mine would have on the surrounding area.
“Victoria Forest Park is a primeval beech forest. Given the humid environment and heavy rainfall in this area, I am concerned about the environmental impact of this mine on groundwater. It feels so wrong,” she said.
Federation Vice President Simon Delander said the company’s environmental monitoring program, developed with New Zealand experts, scientists and stakeholders, would not release water from the treatment ponds unless it met quality criteria.
“The area will be restored to a natural state agreed with the landowner,” he said.