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Commercial gold miners want to dredge Clutha River, downstream of Wānaka

The suction dredge Cold Gold Clutha Ltd proposes using on the Upper Clutha River, downstream of Luggate.

Posted on November 9, 2022

A planned commercial gold mining operation down stream of Wānaka will be discreet, a proponent says.

Cold Gold Clutha Limited is seeking resource consents to operate a 24m-long suction dredge with a 6.6m beam along sections of the Clutha River between Luggate and the top of Lake Dunstan until February 2031.

Mining consultant Darryl Sycamore, who prepared the applications, said the company had already been using the dredge for 10 years to mine a 66km-long section of the Clutha River from Roxburgh to just south of the Beaumont Bridge.

It now wished to move it upstream.

The area is popular for fishing, boating and camping during summer.

The company requested the applications to the Queenstown Lakes District Council, Central Otago District Council and Otago Regional Council be publicly notified.

That would allow members of the public and interested parties such as Contact Energy, which operates dams on the river, to be involved, Sycamore said.

The company is majority owned by Daniel Walker, of Takaka, with Peter Hall, of Dunedin, and Jacqui Wilcox, of Wellington, as minor shareholders.

The mining area would cover about 210 hectares over 24km of the upper Clutha River, with sensitive ecological environments excluded, Sycamore said.

It is proposed that the dredge will not operate within 150m of campers or designated camping areas between December 24 and January 3 and over the Easter weekend.

Certain areas would also be excluded from dredging during the sports fish spawning season.

In the 10 years the dredge had been operating on the lower Clutha River, there had been no complaints about noise or effects on the environment, Sycamore said.

Fly-fishing guide Simon Wilkinson strolls the banks of the Clutha River between Cromwell and Luggate.

“It operates very quietly. Most people don’t even know it’s there. It operates pretty discreetly.”

The suction dredge uses hydraulically driven high-pressure water pumps to suck gravels from the bottom of the river, according to the application.

Large material and excess water is discharged immediately back into the river while smaller material is pumped on board and fed through gold recovery systems, before being discharged back into the river.

Areas are ‘spot mined’ rather than the entire riverbed being mined and would only be mined once, the application says.

The dredge moves continuously with no more than 1ha being mined within a month. It was unlikely more than 10ha would be mined in a year.

“Any impacts on the ecology from sediments will be negligible compared to the effects of even a modest rain event in the catchment.

“This is because the effects are highly localised,” the application says.

Sycamore said the company was preparing a cultural impact assessment before the public notification process started.

Hobby miners say gold nuggets can still be found in Central Otago rivers.

The company would also require a concession from the Department of Conservation to take the dredge out of the river and return it upstream.

Sycamore was not aware of any investigations that showed gold in the river, but it was mined extensively during gold rush days with coal powered dredges.

More recently there were hobby miners who frequented the river.

“Ultimately this [application] is a commercial decision. They’ve determined that that’s a place that will potentially more viable than where they are.”


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