Written Answers. - Mining Industry.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

102 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had, if any, with the former operators of the Silvermines facility in County Tipperary regarding the severe problems for local residents caused by the dried-out tailings pond; the steps being taken to ensure the implementation of the rehabilitation plan for the pond published by his Department in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10833/03]

In 2001 the then Department of Marine and Natural Resources commissioned SRK Consulting to undertake an integrated study of the entire Silvermines area, including the Gortmore tailings management facility, and to develop rehabilitation and management options for lands damaged by mining. The study cost €420,000, and the final report was published at a public meeting in Silvermines on 2 May 2002. The former mining company which mined State-owned minerals at Silvermines was presented with a copy of the report that day.

Officials of my Department had met with the former company in January, April and May of 2002 in the run up to the publication of the report. My Department also has had meetings with the local community and elected representatives, the most recent being on 18 March 2003 in Silvermines.

Under Clause K of the State mining lease held by the mining company, it has a contractual liability to rectify the lands affected by its working of State minerals. The State mining lease was valid for 33 years, expiring in December 1998, though production at the mine actually ceased in 1982. My Department has to specify what remedial works it requires the company to undertake. As part of its study, SRK was asked to examine what works would fall under the companys Clause K responsibilities and to integrate these into the overall recommended remediation programme.

The Department's legal advice is that it can make only one demand on the company to carry out specified remediation works. The Department has been working in consultation with the Chief State Solicitors Office and using the SRK report to draft a notice to the company of the remedial works the company is required to carry out under the terms of Clause K. That document was recently finalised and was served on the company on 10 April 2003 by the Chief State Solicitors office. The Department will await the companys response before considering the matter further in consultation with the Chief State Solicitors office.

However, the companys Clause K obligations cover only some of the former mining sites that require rehabilitation and long-term management. Silvermines has a long history of mining, spanning more than a thousand years. The SRK report deals with all mining sites at Silvermines. Fully implementing SRKs proposed rehabilitation and management programme will cost an estimated €5.2 million in capital costs towards rectifying former mining sites and €70,000 per year for long-term monitoring and maintenance of those sites.

The question of which State agency will be responsible for implementing the SRK programme and the possible need for new legislation to enable the designated agency to implement the remediation and monitoring programme is being examined.