Silt running down Spring Creek into the clear-running Majors Creek Photo: Supplied
Mining has turned over Araluen Valley's floor since the 1800s, now Landcare volunteers say it has paid a small dividend to the water catchment.
Big Island Mining Pty Limited, the operator of the Dargues Gold Mine near Braidwood, has been ordered to pay $196,000 in penalties and costs after pleading guilty in the Land and Environment Court to polluting Spring and Majors creeks on three separate occasions in 2013.
Big Island must pay $103,000 for environmental work being undertaken by the Upper Deua Catchment Landcare Group which proposes stabilising creek channels, weed management and re-vegetation, and improving the stream's health with native water plants more fish passages.
Upper Deua Catchment Landcare Group secretary Penny Hayman beside Majors Creek. Photo: Jay Cronan
The group's secretary, Penny Hayman, said a five-year plan of management supported by Eurobodalla Shire Council had been in the pipeline before the court's decision, now proposals could be brought forward.
"Miners in the 1800s didn't realise what they were doing [to the environment]," Mrs Hayman said. "These days they have a wealth of information and ought to know."
The pollution occurred in February and March 2013 while the gold mine at Majors Creek was being built. The court found the miner failed to install adequate sediment and erosion controls.
Following heavy rain, muddy water was allowed to discharge from the construction site into Spring and Majors creeks.
Majors Creek provides a water supply for rural properties and flows into Araluen Creek, a tributary of the Deua River. The Deua River catchment provides 60 per cent of the water supply for Eurobodalla.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority investigated the discharges, and Big Island Mining pleaded guilty, and included findings in a directors' report for the Australian Stock Exchange.
As well as paying out $103,000 to the Upper Deua Catchment Landcare Group, it must pay the EPA's legal costs of $93,000
Justice Nicola Pain found that as the operator of a gold mine of this size the defendant should have ensured it had sufficient expertise to confirm that its project approval was being complied with, including where a contractor selected for its particular skills was being employed. That obligation included the ability to ensure adequate implementation of controls on the ground.
Justice Pain said it was concerning these offences occurred in the first two weeks of work.
Justice Pain said Big Island Mining pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and acted promptly and vigorously to attempt to rectify the deficiencies in the erosion and sediment controls when it was alerted to them.
A spokesman for the miner said the court had found environmental harm was found to be at the lowest end of the possible spectrum of harm.