The Stockman Project is located in the Victorian Alps, 60 km by road north east of Omeo. The project contains two copper-zinc-lead-silver-gold rich deposits, called Wilga and Currawong. Wilga was discovered in 1978 and Currawong in 1979. Denehurst mined the copper rich core of Wilga deposit from 1992 to 1996. The mine operated by Dehnurst left behind a dangerous mess. In 2006, following $6.9 million worth of rehabilitation of the plant site and tailings dam at the taxpayers expense, the project was put out for public tender as part of an exploration incentive program. Jabiru Metals Limited (Jabiru) was awarded the project in March 2007.

After a number of attempts to re-open the mine, the Victorian treasurer has announced a ‘new multi-million dollar investment’ in the Stockman project and a new owner.

According to a release from the VIC government:

“Australian mining company CopperChem, wholly owned by Washington H. Soul Pattison and Company Limited, today completed its purchase of the Stockman project.

In a first for Victoria, CopperChem has signed a State Government agreement to fund the ongoing management of a tailings storage facility after mining has ended, establishing a new benchmark in environmental safeguarding and protecting the local Tambo River area.

The Stockman copper mine would be the first new mine to open in Victoria since 2006, and is expected to have a working life of around 10 years.

The project received a positive planning assessment in 2014 following an Environment Effects Statement and public inquiry process.

Exploration and resource development activities are expected to commence before year’s end, with production to start after the installation of infrastructure pending CopperChem’s final investment decisions and obtaining necessary permits.

The new mine development is expected to involve commercial investment of $180-$200 million and will create 300 jobs in the construction phase – followed by 250 jobs.

The mine is also expected to raise around $40 million for the state in royalties that will be reinvested into improving vital services and infrastructure in Victoria”.

The tailings dam poses a significant risk. According to a report from Scott Campbell-Smith, the tailings dam still leaks and operates on a flow through system so it remains a source of heavy metals contamination into the Tambo River and hence the Gippsland Lakes.   Tailings of this type remain dangerous for approximately 1,000 years but may be stored in a chemically stable state under water.

We hope that the agreement for the company to have an ongoing management role of the tailings storage facility after mining has ended will avoid the risk of the taxpayer having to pick up the tab again.

For background on the project, please check these stories.

The Gippsland Environment Group condemned the Victorian Government’s decision to lift the mining licence exemption over the Stockman mine’s tailings dam.

The Minister for Resources decision to amend the licence will permit the toxic tailings dam to be re-opened and expanded by CopperChem the company which has recently acquired Independence Group’s Stockman Project

“This is a murky deal that will jeopardise the health of the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes for thousands of years,” said Louise Crisp of Gippsland Environment Group. “On what grounds was the exemption lifted and why weren’t the public and downstream farmers and communities consulted?”

“The Benambra copper and zinc mine was first operated by Denehurst Pty Ltd from 1992-96, until the company went bust and abandoned the mine site.  The company left behind a leaking tailings dam filled with 700,000 tonnes of toxic heavy metal tailings at risk of breaching and flooding the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes.

In 2006 the State Government rehabilitated the tailings dam at a cost of $7million to the taxpayer. The dam was renamed Lake St Barbara and an exemption placed over the site to exclude it from any future mining licence.

The dam is still leaking polluted water at a rate of 86,000 litres per day into the headwaters of the Tambo River, the ore used to raise the dam wall to prevent it breaching contained potential acid forming material, and an acid seep from the old processing plant is also contaminating the Tambo River.

In 2014 Independence Group proposed to re-open the Stockman mine and massively expand the tailings dam to store up to another seven million tonnes of mine tailings. The company planned to raise the dam wall up to 45 metres above the valley floor and to increase the surface area of the dam from eight to 32 hectares.

In December this year CopperChem a US based company purchased Independence Group’s Stockman Project. At the same time the Victorian Minister for Resources Tim Pallas announced that CopperChem had signed a deal with the State Government to fund the ongoing management of the tailings dam after mining has ended. The tailings must remain covered by two metres of water forever to prevent an acid chain reaction occurring.

When interviewed on ABC radio last week the Minister would not divulge the financial details of the Trust Fund which is intended to fund the management of the tailings dam in perpetuity.

“The community has a right to know what CopperChem’s financial contribution is to the Trust Fund and whether the Victorian taxpayer is also making a contribution,” said Ms Crisp.  “How can the State Government possibly calculate what it will cost to maintain a massively expanded dam filled with toxic tailings and keep the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes safe for the next thousand years?”

The Minister for Resources also failed to mention that he had signed off on an amendment to the mining licence exemption which will now permit the tailings dam to be expanded and become operational again. There was no public consultation regarding the amendment. CopperChem has now submitted an application to Earth Resources for an infrastructure mining licence over the tailings dam.

“The rehabilitation of the abandoned tailings dam in 2006 came at a great financial cost to the taxpayer and the exemption excluding it from any mining operations forever was put there for good reason,” said Ms Crisp. “Why has the exemption been lifted? What advice has the Minister received about the risks to the Tambo River from an expanded tailings dam constructed right across its headwaters?  How much will it cost the taxpayer to remediate a much larger tailings dam, the second time around?”

The decision by the State Government to abrogate its ongoing responsibility for the tailings dam is foolhardy and incomprehensible. The Resources Minister’s action to remove the exemption over the tailings dam puts the future of the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes at risk of catastrophic environmental damage.




Media contact

Louise Crisp

Gippsland Environment Group

mob 0418 516 373