Ore stockpile a golden opportunity

RUINS: What is left of the Victoria Battery.
RUINS: What is left of the Victoria Battery.

An application to mine a century-old stockpile of gold worth almost $13 million on the proposed Hauraki Rail Trail path and bordering the Ohinemuri River has alarmed nearby residents.

Miner Alan Death and geologist Keith Hay lodged the proposal with New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals on September 10, after being involved with a failed attempt to extract it nearly 20 years ago.

If successful, the permit would grant a five-year window to take gold and silver on the 3.6ha strip of Conservation Department land.

But due to its proximity to the river it would highly likely need resource consent from the Waikato Regional Council.

The council understands the ore was dumped there about 1903.

Regional Council spokesman Stephen Ward said they investigated the tailings dam in 2009.

The study indicated there were high levels of heavy metals in the tailings, but there was "no significant discharge" from it.

It was subsequently classified as "contaminated" and warning signs erected.

Waihi resident Ruth Ordish said the mining application would cause widespread concern and was a "very sad thing".

"Those tailings, although considered a contaminated site, are relatively stable at present," she said.

"Any interference with them at all will jeopardise their containment, and as they are immediately adjacent the Ohinemuri River, jeopardise the river, the water quality and the surrounding ecology."

Hauraki District Council community services manager Steve Fabish said the rail trail, part of Prime Minister John Key's $50m national cycleway, is planned to cross the ore dump on its way from Waikino to Waihi.

They're planning to put the track on the surface with minimal disturbance, he said.

He was unaware of the application to mine it and so was the regional council.

It's understood the Waihi Gold Company originally extracted the ore from Martha Mine in Waihi and transported it by rail to the Victoria Battery processing factory where it was stockpiled in a hollow alongside the river.

The superintendent's annual report for 1907 states: "We have very little hope of ever being able to treat these tailings at a profit."

Victoria Battery was once the largest quartz ore processing plant in Australasia and one of the biggest industrial sites in New Zealand in the early 1900s.

At the time it was the country's largest producer of gold - 10 times more than the next largest battery.

Mr Death and Mr Hay were involved in an aborted attempt to dig up the gold in the early 1990s via their company Victoria Sands Ltd.

Paeroa resident Peter Davison was one of five shareholders, alongside Death and Hay, who had a prospecting licence on the land.

He said it's a small area yet there's "a lot" of gold-rich sulfide ore there.

The venture ran out of steam because it was uneconomical to extract the ore and process it, but Mr Davison estimated there to be $3m worth of gold at the site - in today's prices that's close to $13m.

"It'll be good for the area," he said. "Obviously being right by the river, you'd think there'd be some leaching into it."

Waikato Times