By SIR PETER BARTER
So many people are eager to provide views against the MCC Ramu Nico project in Madang, yet most of those arguing against the project have really not taken time to understand the difficulty in developing a project or read the many documents which began many years ago.
Highland Pacific Limited (HPL) was the initial developer who had difficulty in finding a joint venture partner to make the project a reality. The Prime Minister in his wisdom invited the Chinese to become involved and ultimately an agreement was reached between the State and the Chinese Government who nominated MCC to become the major shareholder and manager of the project.
Prior to MCC becoming involved, HPL spent many months if not years holding various meetings with landowners, business houses, the Provincial Government and the general community in awareness about all aspects of the proposed Ramu Nico Mine. These meetings did not take place just in Madang or Waigani, the consultancy meetings took place in many villages along the Raikos, Upper Ramu, down the
and on Kar Kar. Ramu River
Meetings generally held in Madang were poorly attended. Noticeable was the absence of the Provincial Government and most churches and NGO’s.
Records show that in 1992 along Enviromental Plan Patrols meetings took place at Mindre, Ganglau, Bibi, Marakum, Bongu, Ato, Naru, Usino Station, Mundip, Kurumukari, Wiavani, Daunagari, Enekwai, Usino Village, Ono, Igure, Raikos High School and Dien. Later EP Patrols visited Wara Laplap, Usaruk, Aiome Station, Sepu, Bogadjim, Yanglau, Kul, Mindre, Annaberg, Chungfribu, Kwanga, Tsumba, Brahaman, Walium, Mindre, Jangag, Ganglau, Kul, Saidor, Kulilau, Dien, Bobgu, Male, Bokadjim, Ato, Bibi Revisit, Tsumba, Wokam, Bagapela, Kaioma, Akurai, Gwaia, Aringen, Biwi, Abu, Bunapas, Nem Nem, Bulivar, Marangis. Many more villages were revisted two and three times in 1999 alone during which a total of 13,439 attended.
Where low attendances were experienced, the EP Patrols returned and since 1999 many more patrols have taken place, not counting the various environmental meetings that have taken place in Madang and public forums.
As a result of the awareness undertaken by HPL through independent consultants it is quite outrageous that NGO’s are now saying the people were not aware of the project and the process use in extracting the nickel and cobalt.
Ultimately the Enviromental Plan (EP) was approved by the Madang Provincial Government and the Department of Conservation and Environment and at the time MCC agreed to become involved the EP was approved and it was on this basis that MCC accepted the challenge to develop the Ramu Nickel. Let me put this another way, if the environmental plan had not been approved it is doubtful if MCC would have agreed to sign the State Agreement.
Once the agreement was signed, little time was lost in developing the project which todate has cost over K7 billion!
Just months before production was to commence they have been issued with an interim court order to stop the Deep Sea Tailings (DST) and this delay is expected to cost Ramu Nico around K7 million a day, worse still, it could result in the entire project being scrapped with thousands of PNG people out of work and the potential of the resource along with the benefits being scrapped. PNG’s image domestically and internationally is at stake as any future potential investors would be very cautious in funding similar projects in PNG.
This is the scenario that need to be understood, now responding to the specific issues raised during the awareness patrols both in 1992 and more recently.
The EP Presentation procedures began with a prayer, followed by introductory statements usually made by senior HPL officers. At each meeting, the entire EP document covering all main components of the project and their respective environmental impact implications were address in the EP document. This included the actual mine at Kurumbakari, the pipeline, processing plant, the Deep Sea Tailings and the
The explanation covered the processing plant, its capacity, raw materials to be used, support infrastructure including power plant and the products at the end of the processing line including waste streams and how these will be managed and disposed of together with the monitoring requirements.
It was explained that the plant will emit low levels of air pollutants and that the OEC will require the plant to meet air quality standards outside the refinery boundary. It covered sewerage treatment and disposal and compliance issues to maintain environment quality.
Picture of mine at Kurumbukari
The questions asked varied from place to place but the main fears people had were about the air emissions over Basamuk causing acid rain that will damage plants, animals and even effect human health. (Disposal of tailings will be covered later.) EP officers explained that power produced with meet acceptable standards and be constantly monitored. The power plant at Kurimbakari would be hydro power and would therefore have no environmental impact, further more, the power could ultimately link up with the National PNG Power grid. (Hydro station at Kurimbikari)
To understand that DST issue, it must firstly be understood that the mine simply extracts the mined ore which is mixed with cold water and is carried as slurry down the pipe line to Basamuk. Absolutely no processing takes place at Kurumikari and it is therefore quite incorrect for NGO’s to suggest the environment or
Ramu River could become polluted beneath the mine site, or
further downstream along the . Ramu
RAMU RIVER SEDIMENTATION
In 1992/3 a series of earthquakes shook the
for a period of almost three
months. I was personally present during
this period evacuating many people from villages in the mountains and caring
for them at a care centre we built at Gusap.
The mountains are extremely steep and hundreds of landslides took place,
I recall seeing churches, villages sliding down the sides of mountains causing
dams to form and when heavy rain followed the water in the dams caused the dams
to burst, flash floods roared down the Gusap and other rivers loaded with logs
and debris along with a mountain of water which wiped out everything in their
way including the Gusap and other bridges.
Since then, every wet season, further landslides have occurred and the
sediment washed into the Finnisterre Mountains causing it to silt
up. An example is the Ramu
River Walium/Brahman Road where almost every
year the river changes course and bridges are wiped out isolating Brahman and
Bundi. The original course of the river
has changed and this silting up will continue for as long as the sediment
continues to be washed down from the Finnisterre mountains.
Sadly, many people along the
are blaming the Ramu Nico and Marengo Mines, even before they have commenced
production. Ramu River
This is a natural phenomenon that has been going on for thousands of years and it will continue after the mines begin production and this process was explained to the people along the
Baseline studies have already been put in place to monitor any environmental damage and be strictly monitored by the Government according to the EP.
There is fear about the actual pipeline breaking and according to engineering assessments this is highly unlikely, but even if there was a leak, the slurry is only sediment and cold water – there is absolutely no processing of the ore at Kurimbakari subsequently no chemicals or toxicity that could cause environmental damage. In the event of a breach. The pipeline would be shut down and repaired.
The main reason for designing the DST was to ensure that the tailings is disposed at a location where they are confident it will remain at depth and safe for everyone, both in the short and long term, without endangering the highly productive coastal marine environment that is utilised for subsidence. The entire DST system was planned and developed on the experiences gained from similar DST at Lihir, Misima and other parts of the world. The tailings will be chemically different for other mines in PNG in as much as poisonous chemicals such as cyanide will NOT be used by Ramu Nico and will not be present in the tailings.
In regard to alternative onland tailing dam. This would require a vast landmass and landowners from Raikos have a stated they do not want anymore land alienated. There is also risks in tailing dams build on unstable ground subjected to frequent earthquakes which could breach and cause destruction downstream.
Before the tailings are discharged into the DST system, they will be neutralised residually acidity and precipitate metals our of a solution inside the processing plant. The tailings would then exit the processing plant via a pipeline to a mix tank near the shoreline when it would be then discharged at a depth of 150m below the surface.
Anyone that knows PNG and in particular the Raikos realise that the mountains from the coast rise up to 12,000 feet. More than 600 inches of rain fall and due to the proximity to the coast, the rivers and creeks rage along the valleys carrying sediment, rocks and anything else in their way and discharge into the sea and frequently this brown discharge can be seen miles out to sea. It would be difficulty to qualify the amount of sediment being discharged along the river system, but it is fair to say that the discharge of the tailings is infinitesimal compared to the volume that comes down from the mountains.
If the tailings was toxic or contained cyanide there would be some reason for concern, but given that it is no worse that natural sediment coming down from the mountain it is absurd to suggest that the environment from tailings could be destructive, specially when you consider the tailings are discharged at a depth of 150m and the Vitiaz Basin has canyons of 500m – 1,500m which already has the natural discharge from rivers far greater than the volume of tailings.
Some of the reports prepared by the
Picture of late Rev Wesley Kigasung (second from right) with Madam Luo and others at Basamuk at the start of project
There is no doubt that the main concern expressed by the people during the EP Patrols by leaders related to the treatment and disposal of the tailings. Despite assurances from the people who supported the project continual reference was made of the tailings and irresponsibly promoted using scare tactics where it was said ‘all your fish will be poisoned’.
I am not a scientist, like NGO’s we are guided by scientists, it is extremely important that information being disseminated to the people is accurate and balanced keeping in mind it is in the national interest to determine a way forward over the deadlock that has occurred due to the interim court order which has not taken all the facts into consideration nor the national interest.
Despite the assurances by the people for the project, uncertainties still exist as to whether their marine environment will be safe. This places the onus on the developers including the Government to ensure it works in the manner described in the EP, more importantly that it will be monitor the behaviour, movement and ultimate deposition of the tailings at depth. This can only be only achieved through strict environmental management in the construction and operation of the processing plant and maintaining a stringent monitoring programs on the compliance conditions set by the Government.
If the project is stopped what will become of the entire project, what will happen in regard to future investment not only from the Chinese but anyone else wanting to invest in
It was not long ago that the Raikos was a forgotten part of PNG, roads, bridges collapsed and sea conditions did not permit easy access to Madang. Education and health services had deteriorated beyond an acceptable level and for several years have lacked political representation. The Ramu Nico project has changed the future, roads and bridges have been agreed, infrastructure including schools are beginning to be restored and the people are engaged in growing vegetables and other activities that have already made a difference to the economy.
Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare at the groundbreaking ceremony at Basamuk.
This is the second attempt to bring about development to the Raikos, the first was for a Cement Factory at Saidor which subsequently fell through and now the Nickel Project is facing certain closure if the DST is not approved.
Everyone has a right to talk, a right to influence, but we have a moral obligation not to mislead and perhaps in this instance we do have an obligation to consult. Given the documents I have seen, reading the environment reports being dispersed I and most other responsible citizens are convinced some of the NGO’s are not providing a balanced position.
I recently said that the Chinese were being victims of abuse over this development and I repeat again. The senior MCC executives that I have met have endeavoured to adopt a responsible approach, initially there were some problems but in time, most of the problems have been resolved, I am confident they are good corporate citizens that have largely met the terms of the agreement and more. As an example, this week I believe they made a visit to
Language has been a problem but now their public relation and community relation division has begun more awareness and it is obvious that the Landowners and most of the population are clearly in favour of the project.
The PNG Government to a large extent has failed to support MCC in many ways. Given the cultural and communication problems this support was vital as I said at the beginning, when MCC accepted the invitation to develop the project, they were provided with an approved environment plan and it really up to the National Government to ensure that adequate monitoring is in place to ensure there is little of no damage to the ecological system of the Raikos – no one wants to be a party to the destruction of reefs and sea-life, with these in mind, it is time to sit down and talk face to face without the accusations and misleading information that could destroy a project and future investment in PNG. It is time for PNG citizens to talk without outside help from overseas ‘experts’ who in most cases have much to protect themselves in their own countries.
In a letter dated Mar 19, 2000 the then Governor of Madang, Jim Kas, Sande Suang, Chairman of Basamuk LOA, Clant Alok, Provincial Administrator and David Tigavu, Chair of the Kurumbukari LOA, Pengau Mengo, Deputy Governor & President Raikos Council, Michael Yarap, President, Usino LLG and Wesley Sanarap, President, Madang Provincial NGO Forum stated that “we the Stakeholders and concerned parties in the Ramu Nickel-Cobalt Project approve and are in absolute support of the Environmental Plan.” The concluding paragraphs stated “we the undersigned, once again, thank you for spending your time in Madang, whilst allowing us to review the Environment Plan and we hope to continue this working relationship with you and the Government of Hon Sir Mekere Morauta”
Clearly the Provincial and National Government at the time gave approval after exhaustive consultation with the people. Subsequent reports readily available indicate that adequate awareness was made and from that I can see will continue.
Former Regional Member, Governor, Minister and now concerned Citizen, Businessman and