2002 – Interim Raising of Main Creek Tailings Dam by Upstream Construction

David Brett, Anton van Velden and Phil Soden

The Main Creek Tailings Dam is a 60m high earth and rockfill dam constructed during the early 1980’s to store tailings from the Savage River Mine on Tasmania’s west coast. The dam served the mine well for nearly 20 years, storing around 32 million m3 of tailings, but has required raising due to the expanded mining plans of the current operators, Australian Bulk Minerals (ABM). ABM believe that the mine could require a further 60 million m3 of tailings storage over the next twenty years at increased production levels. This could be stored in the Main Creek Dam by raising it by around 35m. In the medium term this scale of raising would be feasible using waste rock product from ongoing mining but in the short term of several years an interim solution would be required. The feasibility of upstream construction on the tailings beach was reviewed and found feasible for
a maximum 12m in 4 lifts.

Of critical concern were

  • The strength of tailings materials in the wet environment
  • The seismicity of the site and potential for liquefaction, and
  • The practicality of construction without failing the material

The paper discusses the investigation and design phases of the dam and describes the issues arising during construction recently completed over the period January to April 2002. The use of pore pressure, shear strength changes and tailings beach movement monitoring to control construction is discussed.

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