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Waihi mine rehabilitation – exciting economic  opportunities 

Plans for the rehabilitation and re-purposing of the ‘Martha’ gold mine located in Waihi, New Zealand are inevitably raised in the period leading up to the end of the operators licence. It was last broached around 2006 before Oceana Gold secured another license to operate the mine. 

The prospect of the mine closing generates considerable public discussion about the possibilities for re-purposing the open cast pit. This includes the idea of creating a 192 metre deep recreational lake from the mine and parklands in the surrounding area.  

While this idea attracted a generally positive response from the public, there was some concern about the feasibility of the lake, environmental impacts, and the economic potential. The impact upon employment opportunities for Waihi and the surrounding area were of particular note. 

The mining license granted to Oceana Gold for Waihi requires an annual review of the Rehabilitation and Closure Plan (“the Plan”). This article is intended as supplementary input into the statutory and discretionary obligations Oceana Hold already holds, Hauraki District Council planning, and as stimulus for wider community discussion.    

While Oceana Gold securing a license for further years somewhat muted the public conversation about options post-mine, the necessity to plan future options remains. The Waihi Community Vision (WCV) Group has historically been an active voice and such groups will be crucial in driving the exploration of possibilities. 

As at 2023, it seems unlikely that all mining activity in the area will completely cease and hence ‘mixed use’ and/or transitional options may be the most attractive in the short to medium term. In this article, several high-level options for Martha mine are discussed. These options could be also considered in other mine rehabilitation scenarios in New Zealand and elsewhere. 

Clearly, health and safety of all post mine options will be paramount. It is the starting assumption that the necessary work to rehabilitate the mines to a safe level will be undertaken by the operator and/or the developer to permit future development. 

Options for development of Martha post mining operations could include: 
 
Option A - The Martha eco-park
 

A ‘garden of Eden’ native bush regeneration programme over twenty years to re-introduce local biodiversity and create a unique, accessible experience of the New Zealand natural environment. Comparative examples could include to the likes of Zealandia in Wellington, New Zealand and international bio-parks. The Martha eco-park option could include an extensive network of walkways that navigate their way around the re-forested mine and feature waterfalls, rivers, waterholes, caves, and reintroduced biodiversity.  

Waihi mine as eco-park
Option B - ‘Lake Martha’ 
 

A recreational lake and supporting parklands created by flooding some or all of the mine. This idea has been mooted a number of times over the years. Lake Martha could be used for a variety of water sports with the area around the lake developed to allow for cafes, bars, restaurants and other community use. Waihi township could be re-developed to orientate towards the lake as its pre-imminent attraction. There may be options over time for housing intensification and hotels in the area overlooking the lake. 

Waihi mine changed into lake

Source:  Oceana Gold (2022) – Waihi gold rehabilitation-and closure plan. Newmont Waihi Gold Martha Pit Master Rehabilitation & Closure Concept Plan 2006.   

Option C - the ‘Waihi adventure waterpark’ 

The creation of a commercial adventure and waterpark with attractions including adventure activities such as abseiling, zip lining, hydro-slides, and other gravity assisted adrenalin rides. The connection with Waihi’s mining history and the Gold Discovery Centre could be further built upon. This could become a significant attraction in the Western Bay of Plenty area and generate economic activity and associated employment and value for the Waihi community.  Youth employment and careers could be a specific benefit.

Adventure theme park concept within Waihi Martha mine after rehabilitation
Option D - combination of all the above options
 

Marthas significant size could allow for the development of some or all aspects of the above options. Clearly, the mine will require a minimum level of rehabilitation, and this will necessitate re-planting of native bush and reintroduction of local biodiversity. This long-term rehabilitation could be funded with the careful introduction of commercially viable attractions that show case the eco-park and its attractions.    

Example of walkway that could be built within rehabilitated Martha mine after reforrestation
Conclusion
 

Options for the Martha mine will require active long-term planning by the Western Bay of Plenty Community and Hauraki District Council. The environmental, social, Iwi, and economic impact of life post mine will be significant and need careful consideration. Conversely, the opportunities for rehabilitation of the mine are exciting and could have a transformational impact upon Waihi and its community for decades to come. It may not need to be an ‘all or none’ option and a well managed transition and/or mixed options may prove attractive. Further work is recommended to engage the public and consider the impact of these wide-ranging options. 

References 

Castendyk, D. N., & Webster-Brown, J. G. (2006). Geochemical prediction and remediation options for the proposed Martha Mine pit lake, New Zealand. In Proceeding of the 7th International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage (ICARD), St. Louis, MA, USA (pp. 306-324).

Clark, Phil; Hill, Trista; Sarker, Tapan; Zhang, Tian (2009). Social impacts of Newmont Waihi Gold operations. University of Queensland. https://www.academia.edu/3311681/Social_impacts_of_closure_of_Newmont_Waihi_Gold_Operations

 

Dowd, P., & Slight, M. (2006, September). The business case for effective mine closure. In Mine Closure 2006: Proceedings of the First International Seminar on Mine Closure (pp. 3-11). Australian Centre for Geomechanics.

Evans, R. (2011). Closure planning. In New Directions in Social Impact Assessment. Edward Elgar Publishing.

 

Hauraki District Council (2006). Hauraki Community Plan 2006-2016.  

Hauraki District Council, New Zealand. Jackman, J. and Thomas, M. (2005). Report to Waihi community Consultation Committee on a Portfolio of Initiatives

Oceana Gold. https://oceanagold.com/interactive-documents/

Oceana Gold. https://www.waihigold.co.nz/uploads/documents/reports-and-plans/Rehabilitation-and-Closure-Plan-2022.pdf?_cchid=4d0122f38decba3fc340940e67298d68

Rashyida, A. R., & Sobirov, B. B. (2022). The Development of Theme Parks for Tourist Destinations: the Case of Escape Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. International Journal on Economics, Finance and Sustainable Development, 4(12), 35-41.

 

Simcock, R. C., & Ross, C. W. (2017). 18 Mine Rehabilitation in New Zealand. Spoil to Soil: Mine Site Rehabilitation and Revegetation, 335.

Worden, Sandy (2020). ‘Integrated mine closure planning: A rapid scan of innovative corporate
practice’. Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining. University of Queensland: Brisbane 

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