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EPA Closes Down Gold Mine

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday flexed its muscle and closed down a gold mine of the FMCI Accra Limited, a foreign company, at Mpeasem in the Ashanti Region.

This is because the company has violated mining regulations and failed to adhere to best practices. Apart from failing to properly reclaim the land, the company, a subsidiary of Canada-based FMCI Financial Corporation, has also failed to post the required reclamation bond and polluted the Ayensu stream, a water body in its concession.

During an unannounced compliance monitoring exercise conducted by the EPA, it was realised that the mine had on two occasions changed ownership and names without recourse to the EPA.

The company had acquired its EPA permit, which expires in April 2014, on October 24, 2012 as Romex Mining Ghana Limited but later transferred its interest to Aburi Goldfield Limited before FCMI came into the picture.

The EPA?has, therefore, ordered the FCMI Accra Limited, to submit immediately an action plan that addresses the issues raised by the agency.

EPA issues

During the tour of the mines, not-too-impressed officials of the EPA queried the reclamation programme of the company, describing it as a violation of mining best practice and regulations.

There were huge pits at many places which were yet to be covered. Instead of the top soil and the overburden (material that lies above the area of economic interest) being stockpiled and later used to fill the pit, it was not done.

The company processing plant also had oil spilled around its generator set. A tributary of the River Offin – the Ayensu stream – which runs through the company’s concession was partially blocked, and looked turbid.

Briefing the media after the inspection, the Deputy Director of the Mining Department of the EPA, Mr Michael Sandow Ali, said “the EPA is ordering them to stop operations until further notice”. “They are not doing mining according to the best practice. Certain conditions in the permit we granted them have been violated.”

Delving into the issues, he said “six months after starting operations, the company was expected to post a reclamation bond but it was not done”. The reclamation bond is money set aside to rehabilitate the mining area should the mining company fail to reclaim the land.

Mr Sandow said per the terms of the permit given the company, it was expected to do a diversion of the Ayensu stream, but it was not complied with. Officials of the company, while admitting their offence with reluctance, stated that they had taken over the mine less than a month ago, hence were not responsible for the mess.

But Mr Sandow would not have an ear for that. He said the permit required that anytime there was “change of ownership and change of anything, the EPA must be notified so that we can take the necessary steps. Now, we don’t know which company is running this affair. The permit is in the name of Romex”.

“This means there is deceit. The monthly receipts we receive come from Romex, but Romex is not on the ground doing the mining itself,” he said. “For now we are suspending our permit, so they are supposed to stop operation and then we’ll take further actions regarding what should be done,” he said.

In a district enveloped by several uncovered pits, Mr Sandow urged mining companies to take their permits seriously. “When they get the permit, they should not just put it into their files but rather their entire staff in the mining should study it because everybody has a role to play in terms of the permit.

“There are hydrocarbon management issues, water management issues, environmental issues so every sector should examine what they fall in line with and make sure they fulfil their obligations,” he said.

On the oil spill, he said there was supposed to be a concrete floor so that when the fuel leaked, it could easily be wiped out with sawdust so that the local communities could even use it to light fire instead of allowing it to sip into the ground water.

Best practice

He said since the concession was a farmland and a lot of cocoa had been stripped from the land, “by best mining practice, the company is supposed to take the overburden (material that lies above the area of economic interest), take the top soil and put it somewhere.

“The gravels separated during the processing are sent back to the lower part of the pit before the overburden and then the top soil. “They can therefore, get the land to its original state and then farmers can go back to the land. That is what we mean by best practice,” he said.

Company responds

Responding to the concerns of the EPA, Mr Mahamadu Salifu, the Mining Manager of FCMI, said the company acknowledged the challenges but had not been able to handle them because of challenges with equipment.

“I’m not very pleased with what I see. I am planning that given all the resources I need to fix it properly. It can be done. This can be fixed,” he said. Mr Salifu, who joined the company less than a month ago, said the company had not deliberately overlooked its responsibilities, since it was not in charge of the mine until two months ago.

The Chief Finance Officer of the company, Mr Addinortey Plahar, said the company, realising the mess of the mine, had immediately written to the Ministry of Environment, Science and Innovation to remedy the situation.

“We’ll like to negotiate it and have terms to resolve it. The Chinese involved in galamsey have done a lot of this and left it behind in other areas. We want to reclaim this place and do it properly.”

He said the company would seek a reassessment of the bond it had to post for the concession, since it considered the $400,000, from which Aburi Goldfields had honoured $100,000, too high.

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