Hidden Valley – Design and Construction of Highland Papua New Guinea First Tailings Dams

The Hidden Valley tailings storage facility (TSF) has set a new precedent in environmental management of tailings in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Modern mining in PNG arguably began with the development of Bougainville Copper in the late 1960s, and continued through to Ok Tedi, Porgera, Lihir, Misima (and others). These mines have proceeded with deep sea or riverine tailings deposition, rather than construction of a tailings dam to retain the mine waste within an impoundment; as is the practice throughout the majority of the mining industry.

The Hidden Valley TSF is comprised of two large earth and rock fill dams, raised by the downstream method. Starter dam construction was completed in 2009. At final height the Main Dam will be one of the highest tailings dams in the world. The dams are constructed of pit waste and therefore have the dual function of storing tailings and waste rock.

Construction of the starter dams and subsequent raises is complicated by conditions at the site. Water management was, and remains, the dominant issue. High rainfall, weak erosive soils, material availability, dense vegetation and remoteness of the site provide constant challenges to construction. The Observational Approach to construction was recommended by the designers and adopted by the mine operator. This involves a knowledgeable pre-assessment of what is likely to change and having contingency plans to deal with possible major issues. This approach allows changes to the design during construction so the “as-built” product is suited for the site, fit for purpose, and remains consistent with the overall intent of the design.

The TSF has been in operation since August 2009 and monitoring data of the structures has been collected during construction and operation. This data is reviewed to confirm design assumptions and assess dam performance.
Personnel involved with this project combined their experiences working in the PNG environment and dam building from other locations. This process led to close interaction between the mine operators, designers and construction teams. Team work and diligent construction practices were and will continue to be necessary to construct and operate the pioneering TSF in PNG.

Murray, L., R. Friedel, G. Suter, J. Penman, J. Watt and H. Jitno. 2010. “Hidden Valley – Design and Construction of Highland Papua New Guinea,” in: ANCOLD 2010, Dam Decisions, Past Experiences, Future Challenges, Hobart, Tasmania, November 3-5, 2010. Hobart: Australian National Committee on Large Dams.

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