Mixed responses from local Kalbar meeting

Liz Bell

GIPPSLAND residents are demanding more details on the environmental effects of a proposed mineral sands mining project in Lindenow, after a recent information session fuelled community concern on the investigative processes.

About 80 people attended the consultation session last Tuesday for the Fingerboards Mineral Sands project in Lindenow, on the doorstep of one of Australia’s largest food growing regions, to provide feedback on technical studies being prepared for the project’s environment effects statement.

Attendees heard from technical consultants and shared their views on issues related to air quality, biodiversity, socioeconomic and agriculture studies being undertaken to assess the potential impacts of the mineral sands mining project.

Community members from the Glenaladale area and further afield were asked to provide initial feedback on the three studies, with community input contributing to the finalisation of the studies and EES report.

But Bairnsdale resident Lex Hammond said he came away from the Kalbar information session “reeling in disappointment”, after the only information presented was “targeted towards ensuring the approval of the project and whitewashing resident, neighbour, community and public’s valid opinions, question and concerns”.

“This is disturbing. We need truly independent reports created, with raw data publicly available for projects of this magnitude,” he said.

Kalbar Resources chief operating officer Dr Victor Hugo said while the final studies and EES report were still some months away, the session was an important opportunity for the community to hear from some of the specialist technical consultants about their investigations and tell the company what it expected the studies to address.

“This is all part of the process of gaining community input on the EES as it is prepared, rather than waiting until the final report is completed,” he said.

Feedback from the session indicated participants found it a useful way of contributing to the process, although some felt that the information was complex and difficult to digest in one session. Many attendees also said they would need to see more detailed findings about the impacts of the project.

Mr Hammond criticised the “fundamentally flawed” EES process, which he described as outdated legislation that “creates dissent, confusion and outrage within the community”.

He said the Environment Effects Act 1978, which requires proponents of a project proposal (in this case, Kalbar) to prepare the EES and undertake the necessary investigations, created “overwhelming bias” in determining what, where, how things are investigated, and how to demonstrate analysis of the findings.

David Warrship, who posted a comment on the Facebook page of community-led opposition group, Minefree Glenaladale, described the meeting as “a complete waste of time”.

“The only information was trying to explain Kalbar’s process in meeting the EES,” he said.

Gippsland resident Coralie Nichols called for the community to find “a quality candidate”for the next election.

“It’s the best way of making local politicians show their hand and stopping the destruction of our land and communities,” she said.

Kalbar plans to publish summaries of the presentations and the community discussions and provide more opportunities for input through similar sessions on other technical studies.

Dr Hugo said there was a lot of information to get through, and it was important that people had time to provide “thoughtful” input.

“People told us that the session was useful, and we will make sure there are further opportunities for community members to consider the information and raise any questions or concerns,” he said.

He said community members had expressed the need for detailed information about the project’s impacts to be available for comment before completion of the EES so that the studies address all community concerns about any effects on the environment and local community.

“There is a high level of interest in issues such as water and mine rehabilitation, so we will seek community input on those studies as well, and our consultation processes will allow ample opportunity for further feedback,” Dr Hugo said.

The EES is expected to be completed later this year, with the state planning minister to consider formal public exhibition and review in early 2019.