28 December 2007

Mine says re-greening soon complete, locals fear ghost town

REGREENING: A Mine Cessation Committee, set up by gold mining company PT Kelian Equatorial Mining, has been carrying out environment restoration efforts ever since it stopped operating in 2003. Until the end of this year, the reforestation process had covered some 1,095 ha, or 91.56 percent of the total area used for mining activities. JP/Nurni Sulaiman

Mine says re-greening soon complete, locals fear ghost town

Nurni Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, West Kutai

PT Kelian Equatorial Mining (KEM) has been mining and processing gold in Tutung village, Linggang Bigung district, West Kutai, East Kalimantan, since January 1992.

Since then, it has been carrying out its community empowerment program: As many as 82 percent of its 1,000 employees are locals, including a number of contractors and stakeholders.

KEM mines an area in accordance with a working contract signed together with the government in 1985 and a land use agreement, spanning 6,750 hectares, approved by the Forestry Ministry.

It halted its open pit mining operation in May 2003 and completed its gold ore processing in February 2005, producing an average of 14 tons of gold annually. It later engaged in a sustainable land restoration program, restoring more than 90 percent of the area as of December this year.

It had only exploited 1,192 hectares, or 17.66 percent of the total mining concession area for mining and processing activities, while the remaining 82.34 percent of the total area of 6,750 ha remained in the form of primary forest.

The company has been carrying out environment restoration efforts since it commenced operations in 1992. Up until the end of this year, the process has covered 1,095 ha, or 91.56 percent of the total area used for mining activities.

The remaining 96.66 ha is expected to be restored in 2008.

The restoration process includes replanting the area with endemic trees, such as benuang and agathis, and fruit trees, such as durian and rambutan.

PT KEM is currently working together with the Forest Rehabilitation Center/Tropical Forest Research Center of the Mulawarman University in Samarinda to evaluate the rehabilitation program, ecosystem and diverse fauna.

To facilitate the cessation process, PT KEM had set up the Mine Cessation Committee (KPPT) in 2001, comprising various elements and co-headed by then West Kutai regent and company president director.

Committee members include company representatives, Rio Tinto mining company, the regency, provincial and central administrations, area residents, non-governmental groups and academics. The KPPT discussed four key topics -- dam, environment, location and assets, as well as community empowerment and spatial planning.

Recommendations from the meeting were then presented in the Mine Cessation Plan (RPT), which was approved by the government in 2005.

To restore the quality of water before it is dumped in the river, PT KEM uses the wetland method to reduce dissolved iron contents in the water, such as magnesium and zinc.

"We use this method so the quality of water from the mine complies with standards regulated by law. The method, which resembles rice planting, has been tested since September 2005," said PT KEM site administration manager and spokesman Yudhi Nurcahyana.

Each cell or wet plot is covered with a variety of local fauna.

Yudhi said setting up the wetland method would be one of the company's activities prior to its closure, and it would be monitored by an evaluation team comprised of relevant state agencies.

"The team will inspect, monitor and evaluate its progress each month. So far, the team deems the program is in line with RPT goals. The cessation process is expected to end in June 2008," Yudhi said.

In accordance with the KPPT, the mining concession area will be turned into a conservation forest, which will later be managed by PT Hutan Lindung Kelian Lestari (HLKL). Yudhi said PT KEM would monitor the program until it handed over the concession area to the government in 2013. HLKL will be tasked to supervise the program from 2009 to 2013.

However, residents fear the Linggang Bigung district, where the mine is located, would become a ghost town when the mine closes. However, PT KEM has a number of strategies to anticipate this concern.

"We will empower the local community and environment. We will provide training to residents who have so far depended on the mine for their livelihoods, according to their interests, such as sewing, agriculture or fishing."

Yudhi said since it commenced operating, PT KEM had built 208 facilities for local residents, which included 72 public, 53 clean water, 12 health, 39 education, 22 religious and 10 sporting facilities at a total cost of Rp 32 billion (approximately US$3.5 million).

Since 2000, PT KEM has focussed its community development assistance program through productive and independent community-based enterprises, concentrated in 28 villages around the mining area.

Through a local foundation, it built the first agricultural vocational school in East Kalimantan, under the auspices of the education office. The school is located in Bigung Baru village, Linggang Bigung district, and was named Ave Bungen Tana, meaning beautiful princess in the local tongue.

"Funds for its operational, maintenance and facility costs will be derived from KEM's permanent funds amounting to US$1 million. The school was inaugurated by West Kutai Regent Ismael Thomas on Dec. 22 this year," Yudhi said.

PT KEM managing director Mark Hunter said the school was part of the Hutan Kita Masa Depan Kita scholarship program managed by the Tunas Bangsa Foundation under the supervision of the school committee.

"The goal of this partnership is to ensure long term forest rehabilitation and conservation and sustainable management of the Kelian forest protection program in line with the 2004 Mine Cessation Plan, as well as provide better opportunities for the younger generation in West Kutai through the scholarship program. I hope the school can provide greater benefits for people in general," Hunter said.

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