Mineral sands protest goes to Melbourne

Liz Bell

A GROUP opposing the proposed mineral sands mine at Glenaladale will take its fight to the state’s capital this week, with a televised demonstration expected to deliver the message to the steps of parliament tomorrow.

Minefree Glenaladale wants to raise awareness around the state of plans to develop an open-cut mine within 500 metres of one of Gippsland’s prime vegetable growing areas.

Mining company Kalbar Resources has proposed the Fingerboards mineral sands mine at Glenaladale within the East Gippsland municipality, between Stratford and Bairnsdale.

The Fingerboards mine has not yet been approved by the state government, but Kalbar has said it anticipates that decisions on the environmental effects statement, mining work plan, mining licence and cultural heritage management plan will be completed in late 2019 or early 2020.

Subject to approvals, Kalbar proposes to begin construction of the project in early 2020, with mining operations to start about 12 months later.

It hopes to extract about 170 million tonnes of ore from the site to produce about eight million tonnes of heavy mineral concentrate over 20 years, and has estimated about 200 construction jobs will be created to establish the mine.

But there is growing concern that the mining process has the potential to contaminate nearby farmland and waterways, and could affect the area’s multi-million dollar agricultural industry.

The project will require significant volumes of water for activities such as ore processing, dust suppression and wash-down, with publicly available documents showing the annual water requirement for the mine expected to be about three gigalitres (previously estimated as up to four gigalitres).

An estimated 40 B-double trucks are expected to travel to and from the project site every day, with the exact route to be further evaluated in the EES.

Resident and mine opponent Debbie Carruthers told the Gippsland Times the mineral sands mine would be an “enormous threat” to the environments of East Gippsland and Wellington shires.

Ms Carruthers said a petition with more than 4600 signatures against the mine and its proponent, Kalbar Resources, would be lodged by the Greens in parliament on Wednesday morning. “This area is a major food bowl for Victoria, so people need to let Richard Wynne, Minister for Planning [who will make the decision about whether the mine proceeds], know their concerns and ask him to stop this mine,” she said.

Ms Carruthers said the petition showed there was “no social licence for this mine to proceed”, with the 4600 signatures adding to the 3000 online signatures on Change.org petitions.

Another mine opponent, Sharon Clerke, said “the time had come to accelerate the level of awareness in Melbourne about the proposed mine”.

“With the Lindenow Valley vegetable growing area only 500m downwind from the mine, we want the rest of Victoria and Australia to know that the area where their veggies are grown is under threat from this mine,” she said.

East Gippslander and Independent candidate at the recent federal election, Sonia Buckley, recently joined hundreds of concerned residents to openly oppose the mine, publicly stating that “food production should take precedence” over the government’s focus on economics.

And in an interview on ABC Gippsland last month, Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Roger Fenwick said “the proposed mineral sands mine is not consistent with the cultural values of the land”.

The mine will be only 350m from the heritagelisted Mitchell River, while a 60-hectare tailings dam is planned close to the Perry River, which discharges into Lake Wellington and the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes.

Kalbar proposes to use open cut mining methods to extract the ore, which will be fed to a mining unit plant for slurrying and pumping to a wet concentrator plant.

There the slurried ore will undergo initial on site processing to produce mineral concentrate to export for further processing into commercial products such as zircon and rutile.

The heavy mineral is separated from the mining by-products (clay and quartz) using a process that will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

The company’s website states that about 96 per cent of the mined ore will be returned to the void, while rehabilitation will occur on the reinstated land surface behind the advancing open cut.

The Glenaladale deposit is thought to be one of the biggest mineral sands deposits in the world, with a JORC (Joint Ore Reserves Committee) resource of 2.7 billion tonnes of heavy mineral.

The total project footprint, which includes tailings (waste) storage, will be about 1675 hectares, with the total mined area of 1000 hectares.

In a 2017 environmental consultant’s submission to the federal government, it was stated that significant wetlands were just 25 kilometres downstream of the project area, and the site would receive “both groundwater and surface water discharge from systems emanating from or passing through the project area”.

The consultant noted that “potential impacts include alteration/degradation of water quality due to sedimentation, run-off and altered flow regimes”, and that the mine was likely to impact on “listed threatened species” and “threatened ecological communities, or their habitat”.

In an unusual twist, in February the East Gippsland Shire Council put the brakes on its decision to oppose the proposed mine, instead rescinding an earlier motion to oppose the mine and to instead wait for the release of the environmental effects statements before it made 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.

At Wednesday’s protest, organisers hope to present a petition to the Legislative Assembly between 9.45am and 10.30am, while a short, 90-second presentation on the mine proposal is screened in the public gallery.

The Minefree Glenaladale demonstration is expected to be filmed by Melbourne news crews, and will begin be on the steps of parliament, corner of Bourke and Spring Sts, Melbourne, from 10.45am tomorrow.

For more information about the demonstration, email minefreeglenaladale@gmal.com.