Coast ilmenite chase back on

By Laura Mills

Two decades after plans were abandoned to mine the Barrytown Flats for ilmenite, a fresh bid has been launched, this time with the possibility of a processing plant in Greymouth.
Pacific Mineral Resources Ltd has applied to undertake exploratory drilling in the area before Christmas. It wants to extract ilmenite — found in sand and used as a base for paint — and process it at a plant.
Director James Hickey said things were different from when a similar mining project was abandoned 25 years ago. Then, Westland Ilmenite built a processing plant but did not actually mine. It later became Rio Tinto, which dismantled the plant.
“It’s a different market we’re looking at. Rio Tinto are miners, they dig it out of the ground, put it on a boat and send it overseas. Our business plan is for a processing plant, and value added products.”
Currently, all of New Zealand’s ilmenite was imported, Mr Hickey said.
“It’s not a mining project, that’s only part of the process, it’s value-added.”
Some of the drill holes would be in schedule one wetlands, on stewardship land under Department of Conservation control.
The resource consent application says most of the area is farmland, with few residents nearby. Canoe Creek is not included.
The ‘aircore’ drill holes will have a diameter of 75.7mm, sunk to a maximum depth of 30m, but normally 12m or less. They will be backfilled naturally as the rods are withdrawn, and plugged 1m below the surface.
The company also wants to drill four holes in Maher Swamp, a schedule one wetland.
“Every effort has been made to locate drill holes away from watercourses, sites of historic interest, vegetation and other obstacles using high resolution aerial photography and field observations,” the company said in its application.
Alloy Resources holds the exploration permit and has entered into an agreement with Pacific Mineral Resources.
The Alloy Resources website says the project has seen extensive work over the past 40 years culminating in pilot scale production by CRA (now Rio Tinto) in the 1980s.
“The company believes that the potential for an ilmenite development may be possible in current market conditions, however the work required for such a large and complex project requires specialist company involvement.”
The bid to mine the area was launched by Fletchers back in 1988. Five years later, Conservation Minister Denis Marshall declined a bid to mine Maher Swamp.
The project was eventually abandoned because it was uneconomic.
Directors of Pacific Mineral Resources are Hugh Grey of Nelson (from Brightwater Engineering), Mr Hickey of Waiheke Island, and Garry Plowright of Australia.
Alloy is an ASX-listed exploration company with projects in Australia and New Zealand.