EAST Gippsland Shire Council has put the brakes on its decision to oppose the proposed Fingerboards mineral sands mine at Glenaladale.
Emotions ran high at Tuesday’s council meeting, after the council decided to rescind a motion to oppose the mine, and to instead wait for the release of the environmental effects statements before it makes a formal decision.
On December 11 last year, the council had agreed to write to the relevant government and statutory authorities to communicate their opposition to the controversial mine proposal, after a motion was passed four votes to three, with two councillors absent.
That move was challenged when a rescission lodged by councillor Marianne Pelz and signed by Crs Joe Rettino and Colin Toohey, stated the previous motion to oppose the mine “lacked clarity and direction for the officers to be able to implement any specific resolution or outcome”.
The council’s change of heart has angered opponents of the mine proposal, who believe the council should heed residents’ concerns that the mine would threaten the region’s agricultural industry, and pollute the environment.
Resident and mine opponent Debbie Carruthers has previously told the Gippsland Times the mineral sands mine would be an enormous threat to the environments of East Gippsland and Wellington shires.
The mine would be 500 metres from Lindenow’s multi-million dollar agricultural areas, and 350 metres from the Mitchell River.
Ms Carruthers said the “flow on” of potential contamination could affect the rivers and lakes systems around Gippsland, including in Wellington Shire.
“Community awareness about the risks is growing,” she said.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, Cr Retttino said arguments put forward by mine opponents were “emotive” and “exaggerated”, and designed to sensationalise, bully and intimidate. He said it would be appropriate for the council to wait for the environmental effects statement.
Cr Marianne Pelz said there was no reason why those people opposing the mine couldn’t write to the relevant minister to inform him of their opposition.
Cr Colin Toohey called for a measured response, and said the council must not “allow our entire community to be put in jeopardy by making a statement that shows perceived or otherwise bias”.
Mayor Natalie O’Connell said she did not believe any councillors would support a proposal that could destroy the agricultural industry in the Lindenow Valley, but that all the information was not yet available.
In the end, Crs Pelz, O’Connell, Toohey, Rettino and Mark Reeves voted for the new motion, and Crs Ben Buckley, Dick Ellis, John White and Jackson Roberts voted against.
Kalbar wants to remove about 200 million tonnes of ore from the site over 20 years, and has been preparing technical studies as part of the approval process.
The studies will form part of the required environmental effects statement expected to be lodged in April.
A public exhibition and review process will follow.
The Kalbar Resources’ opencut mine would extract minerals including zircon, rutile and ilmenite.
A Kalbar spokesman has been reported as saying it had received more than 300 expressions of interest in employment on the project, with 35 of those coming from people who live in east Gippsland.