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Big nickel mining firm says rains caused pollution of bay

/ 07:35 PM February 06, 2012

BUTUAN CITY—A large-scale nickel mining firm has disputed charges that its operations had polluted the waters of Claver Bay in Claver, Surigao del Norte, blaming torrential rains for the mess.

“The waters may be discolored, but it does not mean it (bay) is already polluted,” said Rogel Cabauatan, manager  for environmental safety, health and security of Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC). “The reported pollution is not due to siltation from our mining operations but because of rains, a natural phenomenon.”

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One of the country’s leading exporters of nickel ore, TMC and three other big mining companies based in the Caraga region are being investigated by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) for alleged violations of environmental and health hazard laws, particularly massive siltation and pollution in Claver Bay.

Cabauatan said his firm was strictly adhering to government regulatory measures in so far as mining, environment and health standards are concerned. “In fact, our water quality levels are within DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) standards,” he said.

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“As far as TMC is concerned, it is always compliant with environment standards and regulations,” he told the Inquirer.

On Friday, Mines and Geosciences Director Leo Jasareno conducted an aerial survey of TMC’s mine sites. He said water pollution caused by siltation was evident in Claver Bay brought about by mining activities in the area.

“I observed that the waters of Claver Bay were colored orange due to siltation. Clearly, there was noncompliance with environmental standards and health hazard laws on the part of the firms,” Jasareno told the Inquirer.

He said leakages at the silting containment plants used by the firms for their stockpiled mined ores caused the siltation, which posed serious threats to the environment and the health of people in the communities.

Cabauatan said the discoloration of the waters was inconclusive proof of massive pollution. He attributed it to perpetual rains hitting upland mined areas and naturally flowing downstream toward the bay.

Monitoring teams, composed of MGB officials, environmentalist and nongovernment organizations, and local officials, will be sent to check the plants and, if necessary, recommend sanctions against the erring firms.

The monitoring teams will also look into allegations of nonpayment by mine firms of business fees and taxes to host communities.

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The mining industry in Caraga, which is host to more than a dozen multinational mining firms, has been mired in controversies involving charges of environmental destruction, irregularities in the acquisition of mine permits, displacement of indigenous communities and nonpayment of extraction, business fees and taxes.

Jasareno said he would conduct monthly, not quarterly, assessments on firms accused of being noncompliant with environmental standards and laws.

San Roque Metals Inc. (SRMI), which operates a nickel mine on a 1,300-hectare land in Tubay, Agusan del Norte, has been ordered closed for refusing to pay at least P206 million in taxes to the municipality.

Ryan Culima, spokesperson of SRMI, said the nonpayment was justified, citing tax holidays from its mining franchise granted by the national government.

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Mining, Pollution, San Roque Metals Inc., Taganito Mining Corp., Waters
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