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Gov't to decide next week if Padcal mine can resume operations

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MANILA - The government next will decide on Philex Mining Corp's bid to temporarily resume operations at its Padcal copper-gold mine to fill the void in a tailings pond that spilled in August last year.

 “By next week, we will come up with the final decision whether we will allow Philex to temporarily resume operations,” Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno said during a public hearing held on the mining firm's request for the resumption of operations.

If the government allows Philex Mining to resume operations, then it would be a landmark decision for the mining industry, Jasareno said, adding that it was the first time a company would be allowed to conduct “beaching process” in its tailings facility.

He said the permanent resumption of Padcal's operations would depend on Philex Mining complying with the government's findings as well as the payment of the fines.  The MGB in September last year fined Philex Mining some P1.034 billion for violation of the Mining Act of 1995.

Last month, the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) separately fined the company at least P92.8 million for violation of the Clean Water Act. The PAB also barred Philex Mining from resuming operations until such time the company ensures the integrity of its damaged tailings pond.

On Wednesday, Philex Mining officials made a public presentation on the company's proposed rehabilitation plan for the Padcal mine in Benguet province. The company's foreign consultants also presented updates on the cleanup and rehabilitation of the Balog Creek and Agno River, both of which were at the receiving end of the mine spill.

During the hearing, indigenous peoples' groups and other stakeholders appealed to the MGB to allow Philex Mining to continue operations at Padcal.

Libby Ricafort, Philex Mining vice-president for operations and Padcal resident manager, said the company needs to start the “beaching process” immediately to fill with fresh tailings the massive void in the middle of Tailings Storage Facility No. 3 (TSF3).

“We need to push water away properly to fill this void, we need to create a beach as soon as possible,” Ricafort said.

 “The beaching process would take four to five months,” he said, adding that this has to be conducted immediately to ensure the integrity of TSF3, which the company will revive if the government allows operations to resume this year.

Ricafort said the Padcal mine has to process at least 3.5 million tons of silt materials to fill the TSF3 and push water off the dam.

He said the beaching process is one of the recommendations made by foreign consultants that Philex Mining hired to assess the stability of TSF3.

“In fact, we should have started earlier this week, to meet the deadline, before the onset of the rainy season in June,” he said, adding that the company has no alternative solution to fill the void in TSF3 since other options would cost more and take additional time.

The company voluntarily suspended operations at its Padcal mine on August 1 after heavy rains caused the accidental discharge of nontoxic sediments. Philex Mining has been rehabilitating the Balog Creek as well as the area at which point it crosses Agno River.

Last month, the company announced that it removed the silt from half of the 2.5-kilometer stretch of Balog Creek, collecting 85,000 bags that have since been hauled off.

Eulalio Austin Jr., Philex Mining president, said the company along with San Roque Power Corp would inspect the latter's power plant to determine any possible damage to the facility caused by the mine spill.

“We have received several letters from San Roque informing them about the problems caused by sediment spill, including the damages on the seals of their pumps,” Austin said.

He also informed the MGB that bulk of the spilled sediments already settled at the bottom of the San Roque dam.

InterAksyon.com is the online news portal of TV5, which along with Philex Mining is chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan.

 

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