No Newmont clean-up for Buyat Bay

Down to Earth No. 70, August 2006

Reclamation activities in Sulawesi by Newmont Minahasa Raya, the gold mining company majority-owned by US-based Newmont Mining Corp, are not dealing with the huge amounts of waste dumped in the sea.

Newmont Minahasa Raya (PT NMR) claims to have completed 70% of its reclamation plan for the 200 hectare gold mine at Ratatotok in North Sulawesi. The US-owned company aims to dismantle the processing unit and other installations by September and to have closed the mine completely by the end of the year.

The 'reclamation' consists of landscaping the site, replanting it and putting in drainage channels and dams. A team made up of staff from the local government forestry, environment and mining offices makes three-monthly inspections to check that the work is done in accordance with instructions from the Energy and Mineral Resources department in Jakarta in 2002.

NMR's publicity manager told local journalists that NMR had spent US$15 million on mine reclamation so far. He did not mention that NMR has no plans to restore the marine environment in Buyat Bay where the company dumped some 5.5 million tonnes of heavy metal contaminated mining waste during its 8 years of operations.

Evidence gathered by Indonesian environmental groups and the Indonesian government show that the STD disposal method is the cause of increased levels of heavy metals in marine sediments. Local people have complained of health problems such as skin complaints and loss of livelihoods due to fish kills since the gold mine started operations in 1996. The company has employed experts to refute these claims.

As DTE went to press, the Indonesian government was sure it would win its case against NMR for polluting Buyat Bay in the Manado criminal court. NMR's president director, Richard Ness faces a possible 15 year jail sentence if found guilty. "We're not thinking of what we should do if we lose the case. We're confident that we have enough evidence to prove the company is harming the environment," said environment ministry spokesman Hoetomo.

The environment ministry has not explained why it agreed to a US$30 million out-of-court settlement to end a similar case against Newmont in the civil court in January 2006.

(Sources: Republika 19/Jun/06; Jakarta Post 5/Jul/06)

New lives for Buyat Bay families

In March, DTE interviewed Ibu Surtini, who had relocated from Buyat Bay.

Families who moved from Buyat Bay to escape the impacts of the NMR gold mine have celebrated their first year in their new location.

Seventy families relocated to the village of Dumina Nga, some 300 km to the west of Ratatotok towards Gorontalo, on 25 June 2005. Many were suffering from a range of health problems attributed to pollution from the mining waste. Another 18 families who were not ill decided to remain in Buyat Bay.

"When we first arrived, many of us were ill. We had terrible headaches, itchy skin - all kinds of problems, but now we are much healthier. Some people, like me were taking 8 tablets a day for the first three months but now we don't need to. Yes, we get the occasional illness, but that's normal - not like before," said Ibu Surtini from Buyat.

A number of agencies, including the national environmental NGO WALHI, have raised funds to buy land for a new settlement in Bolaang Uki sub-district. The area looks very similar to their old home as it is on the coast where mountains come down to the sea. The potential for fishing is good and the land is suitable for farming. The government had tried to make the community move further east to Biniha, but they were reluctant as the land was not good.

So far only 20 houses have been built. These are simple, 5m x 6m constructions with a concrete floor, wooden walls and thatched roofs, each set on a small plot of land in blocks of ten. To avoid any resentment, the families draw lots to decide who will get a new house and who will stay in the barracks until there is enough funding to build more.

Electricity is supplied by a generator at night and a large river from the mountainside provides clean water for drinking, washing and domestic needs.

The local community welcomed the people from Buyat and has given them support during their first year. They provided accommodation in their own homes for the first week, supply them with staple foods like yams and bananas and have been teaching them how to farm. The Buyat community used to live mainly by fishing and have brought their boats with them along the coast. But fishing depends on a detailed understanding of local currents, fish populations and the marine environment, built up over years of experience, so they cannot yet depend solely on their old way of life.

The Buyat people are now learning to grow nutmeg, cloves, cocoa, beans, pepper and chillies, in addition to the yams, bananas, maize and coconuts which used to be their only crops. Several of the women are earning money to buy rice and other basic commodities by harvesting chillies and other crops for the villagers until their own land is sufficiently productive.

"We are still finding out how to make a living in this new place," Ibu Surtini told DTE. "But it's better to be healthy, even if life is hard. We could earn more money in Buyat, but we were always ill there. All four of my children are much healthier. The oldest are going to school here and they are even talking with a local accent!" she laughed.

Individuals or agencies interested in funding more homes for the Buyat community should contact the Manado-based environment NGO, KELOLA: