New mining laws in French Polynesia imminent - miner

5:44 pm on 9 April 2019

A mining company in French Polynesia claims the government plans to introduce a new mining code next week.

Avenir Makatea is planning to mine Makatea island for phosphate and use the funds to rehabilitate it and bring former residents back.

Makatea in French Polynesia

Makatea in French Polynesia Photo: Amelie David

Director Colin Randall said he had been assured by French Polynesian President Édouard Fritch that a new mining code would be ready on 17 April.

It's unclear how the laws will regulate phosphate mining but Mr Randall is hopeful they will allow him to push ahead with his plan.

"This will also create employment, but more importantly for the land owners of Makatea you'll end up with a sustainable development and they can decide what they want to do with their land," Mr Randall said.

A government spokesperson declined to comment.

Makatea was ravaged by phosphate mining from 1906 to 1966 when it was stripped of millions of tonnes of phosphatic sand.

More than 3000 people lived on the island at the mining industry's peak but now there are barely 50 residents and it's riddled with more than a million holes from the extraction.

Sabrina Birk, a member of two associations opposing Avenir Makatea's mining plan, said landowners had bad memories of mining on the island by another company.

"Back then, their lands were expropriated, they had nowhere to stay, their lands were taken from them and used by this mining company and they were just given pennies, nothing for the destruction of their homeland," she said.

Mr Randall said he acknowledged the pain of the past for landowners but said opposition against his plan had been caused by misunderstandings.

Colin Randall of Avenir Makatea

Colin Randall of Avenir Makatea Photo: Amelie David

"For the land owners of Makatea you'll end up with a sustainable development and they can decide what they want to do with their land," he said.

Avenir Makatea wants to extract 6.5 million tonnes of phosphate over 27 years from old mining areas on the island and presented its plans to a mining and minerals regional conference held in Auckland last week.

According to a copy of the company's pitch, it would sell product under the Moana Phosphate brand which has been certified organic for importation into US and Canadian markets.

If mining goes ahead, 50 percent of Avenir Makatea's profits would go to the government and landowners, who would also be given a rental property and royalties, Mr Randall said.

He claimed a majority backing from 105 landowner families from Makatea and said if favourable mining laws go through, he would hold public consultations as well.

Ms Birk, who wants Makatea to be turned into an eco-tourism sanctuary to raise funds for rehabilitation, isn't alone in her opposition to mining.

An online petition against Avenir Makatea's plans has been signed by more than 230,000 people over the past two years.

"They know it will destroy, it will bring dust. Phosphate dust can be very toxic and dangerous. It will bring noise which will scare all the birds and everything," Ms Birk said.

Avenir Makatea's plan appears to rest on winning local support but already there is clear evidence of distrust between the two sides.

Mr Randall said Avenir Makatea's old surveying equipment has been donated to locals to set up climbing for tourists.

But Ms Birk said locals contested this, claiming the company never helped them out.

Rupe is endemic to Makatea

Rupe is endemic to Makatea Photo: supplied Te Rupe no Makatea

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