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Living in Waihi – A Personal Account

You should have known!
The Gold mine story.
I have this reputation for complaining about the effects of the Newmont owned Martha Mine in Waihi. Locals who have made their opinion known have said ‘It’s a mining town, you should have known…’ Like known better?

So who would I find that key information from? Would the person who is telling me I should have known have told me not to buy property in this Gold Mining town? I don’t think so!

Open Pit Waihi

Waihi is one of the few towns in the world where there is an open cast mine of huge size in the centre of the town. There is literally nowhere else like Waihi where I could have found out what I know now.

So for all those who can’t get to know – cause who are you going to ask and get an honest answer? – here’s what I should have known… the honest truth as I’ve come to know it about living in a mining town.

When we bought our property we were told by everyone that the Martha Mine would be closing in 2007. There were several previous ‘closure dates’ which had also never happened.

I should have known that a mining company is never going to leave, despite anything they may say, publicly plan, or do to the contrary; unless the gold reserve actually runs out. If it does look like running out they won’t hesitate to ruin your property value by announcing that they are most likely going to dig right up to your front door in order to get that last little bit of gold out. If they decide to put that publicly announced expansion plan on the back-burner they won’t give you a written assurance that it isn’t going to happen. So you can not reassure a potential future owner of your house that the mining catastrophe isn’t going to happen to them.

I should have known that our fond belief that the mining company was paying royalties to our government for the gold and silver they have excavated was false. The entire loot from the Martha Mine has been given to foreign companies for free. New mining has to pay royalties but that is a recent event.

I should have known that once a mining company is dug into an area there is NOTHING which anyone can do, or, in the case of local government, regional environmental organisations or national government – that they have a WILL to do:- to change or challenge what the mining company chooses to do.
It’s simple economics. The benefits that the decision makers directly and indirectly receive from the mining company’s activities outweigh any concerns for the elderly who find themselves unaccountably living on the edge of a collapsing 300m deep hole; the sick who breathe the dust and endure the noise of daily blasting and the continual 12 hour a day loud operational noises of the antiquated noisy mining machines used; or the concerned farmers who cannot run an organic farm because of contamination from dust who find themselves living under an unstable mountain of mine tailings.

If you have a barking dog and ONE person complains you will have to solve that dog’s noise asap or lose your dog. If you own a mine and 600 people want it gone, you can carry on totally unconcerned and do exactly whatever you want because – guess what? If you are a big enough business NOONE can live long enough and have enough money to afford the fight to shut your mining down.

I should have known that a consent agreement may be made for a mine of a small size and that this same agreement will never be able to be revisited to alter the conditions once the mine has grown to twice the size for which the consent conditions were granted.

Consent conditions like noise levels of 50DB – equivalent to your neighbour mowing the lawn all day every day is the acceptable noise level. Construction noise levels can be up to 70 DB – which is so loud you have to shout to be heard.

I should have known that the noise of the rock crusher and mining carries in the wind for amazing distances, just like the earthquakes caused by the blasting can shake just YOUR house and make the lights swing alarmingly, the doors stick, windows jam and your guests, terrified will ask you why you live there. Like Hotel California I can check out, but I can never leave….

I should have known that de-watering of the mine causes all the land to randomly subside over time as the water table is emptied continuously down to whatever level the mine wants to drain it to – and then, once the mining stops – the land will then rise randomly under all our houses and properties, lifted by the rising water table which will find its way out underneath houses as springs, cracking cement floors or driveways. Brick houses and walls are easily broken by ground rising or falling. My neighbours who have lived here for the past 50 years told me about the last re-watering when mining temporarily stopped here in Waihi.
I should have known that there was no compensation plan in place to reimburse distressed homeowners for their disturbed and uncertain possession of a piece of unstable land in Waihi.

I should have been able to guess that there would NEVER be any plans to compensate Waihi residents for the awful stresses and uncertainties involved in living in a mining town. Stresses like the mine company arriving at your house to tell you that the whole town is being moved. Children are stressed by these things even many years later.

I should have known that six months after I moved to my dream home in Waihi; a house would fall down a huge hole which suddenly appeared underneath it. One of the old mines caved in. My friends called me in alarm wanting to know if I was alright. I was lucky, I had bought a house which probably has no mining underneath it – yet.

I should have known that we would end up with this huge uninhabitable area in central Waihi because after the house fell down the hole, the council finally looked into where exactly the old mining had occurred and declared all of that area unsafe. This was a good thing, as now prospective home buyers could now know for sure (like I didn’t) that their home would not have a large hole under or near it somewhere.

I should have known we’d have a ghost town in Waihi, where people used to live before they were relocated.
My neighbours down the road got a shock to discover an old and very deep mine shaft in their front garden. The council came in, dug it up, capped it properly and now it looks like a garden ornament. Beware large round garden ornaments in Waihi – they may be much more than they seem!

Tailings Dam Waihi .. 40cu m of toxic waste

I should have known that the ‘final stability cut’ that the mining company are doing is actually an ‘instability cut’ at the foot of a huge area of unstable land which is currently slowly falling into the open pit and the old workings beneath. There are council pensioner flats right next to the most actively slumping part which has a crack in the road 80 meters deep. The recently moved pumphouse is also situated on this moving earth and is slowly descending into the pit.
I should have known that all the Hauraki District Council would do about this collapse happening is install a machine to ‘monitor’ the situation. It will be able to tell us when the landslide happens around about the same time we all notice it.

I should have known that when the gold has all been excavated from the Waihi source, that the mining company would encourage other mining at Onemana and Karangahake to bring their ore through Waihi for processing in the Waihi plant. The prospect of a future full of mining trucks spreading ore dust full of heavy metals along the roads and through central Waihi is so obvious, I can’t imagine why I didn’t even think about that probability 9 years ago when I so misguidedly bought my home in Waihi.

The Mayor of Hauraki District has been publicly offered my house and declines to do a house swap. I should have known he’d prefer to stay safely living in Paeroa well away from the mining. If I was him I would too!

I should have known that there was a reason that the Hauraki District is the smallest in New Zealand, it’s for the convenience of the mining companies. Few people, with little money means they can’t fight big business as a unified group.

I should have known that the key reason for homes in Waihi to look like a good investment was that there was a hidden disadvantage – the gold mine. The key reason the average income in Waihi is less than $20k a year is the same one…. mining. Only the poverty stricken who can’t afford to leave, or who can’t sell their homes, remain.

I should have known that although the mining company donates a lot of money each year to the local community, that this hardly raises the GDP. That although local people were promised jobs in the mine 25 years ago, few locals are now employed in the mining company. Most key employees are from other nations.
So there it is:- the stuff you should know if you let a mining company dig in your area.

Mining is like the bite of a vampire… it may seem sexy to start with but it just never goes away….. till death do us part.
Food for thought:- Strip Mining prevents Forest Fires.

Christine Mallett
February 2010

or this from an anonymous poster on Trade Me message boards 5 April 2010

i live in a mining town, we have lowest decile schools, lowest average wage ( $15,000.00) and highest unemployed, 300 odd properties for sale and a country full of folk who dont care that our house values, health and quality of life is effected daily by this operation because it creates jobs for a mere 300 out of our 4500 population.

The govt does not receive any royalties from the martha mine project which has operated here for the past 22 years.

Neighbours are not all happy as mine officials often claim and further expansions to both the unstable open cast mine pit ( over 300 mtrs deep in the centre of town) and underground mine have gone unnoticed thanks to the proposals to mine the conservation lands throughout the country. If mining was good for the local economy I would support it, sadly unless you are skilled in the mining industry there are not jobs here for the average person, two of our four pubs were closed this easter weekend due to a lack of patronage, huh so much for life in a mining town eh!!

PS Waihi survived nicely without a gold mine for 30 odd years, we had full employment, compassion for our neighbours and water was free, now we pay for water have limited jobs opportunities and have been abandoned by our council who allow this industry to devalue and effect our property values, air quality, residential security and private property rights, shame, shame,shame