Council supports sands mine, with conditions

David Braithwaite

WELLINGTON Shire Council has approved a submission to support the proposed Fingerboards mineral sands mine, with councillors split five-four on the motion.

Council endorsed the submission to the environmental effect statement process.

As reported in Tuesday’s Gippsland Times, the submission put forward for councillors’ consideration supported the mine, but expressed a clear preference for rail transport to be utilised for the project, and sought a clear commitment that all relevant environmental issues be appropriately assessed and mitigated.

Council saw the project providing “significant economic benefits” to Wellington Shire through the creation of jobs and the supply of goods locally.

There were calls from two councillors and members of the public to delay a decision until after this weekend’s council elections.

The current deadline for EES submissions imposed by the state government is next Wednesday, but the next council won’t be sworn in until November 17.

Five councillors – Malcolm Hole, Scott Rossetti, Ian Bye, Garry Stephens and mayor Alan Hall – voted in favour of the submission.

Crs Carmel Ripper, Carolyn Crossley, Darren McCubbin and deputy mayor Gayle Maher voted against.

Before Tuesday night’s meeting, council received 10 submissions from the public.

Nine submissions – including two from election candidates Akarna Bowers and Kathy Mansfield – were opposed to council supporting the mine, raising concerns about the environmental effects, water issues and agriculture, and respiratory health.

A 10th submission supported the project, providing environmental and rehabilitation concerns are addressed.

Final approval of the mine rests with the state government, which is overseeing the EES process.

Cr Hole said council, through the submission, sought to protect the interests of all Wellington residents.

“It seeks that day-by-day rail transport be used, it asks all objections to be assessed and also for the protection of the chain of ponds through Providence Ponds,” he said.

“Submissions close on October 28, and at this stage, our new council won’t be put into power until November 17. We won’t have the new council to get this in by the 28th.

“This submission, going in now on behalf of the Wellington community, will remain within the formal structure to defend and advocate for any future decisions.

“For Wellington to maintain a place at the table for whatever may eventuate down the track, this submission is vital.”

Cr Crossley said council should follow its East Gippsland Shire counterpart in seeking to make a submission after the elections.

“I think they consider that it’s too close for the current council on their last meeting to make a decision that’s going to impact the community and perhaps the newly-elected council,” she said.

“I think it would be more appropriate to leave it to the newly-elected council to deal with this matter.”

The submission put forward by council officers may not reflect community views, Cr Crossley said.

Cr Bye said council supported thorough studies and mitigation of environmental issues relating to the mine, while the ability of local roads to cope with trucks needed to be taken into consideration.

“The last thing I want is a lot of B-doubles coming through Stratford through the roundabouts,” he said.

“I also support jobs as long as the jobs are in an area that won’t hurt our environment and hurt the Wellington residents.

“I think delaying putting in a submission of what our thoughts are, I don’t think the new council will change anything, so I support just getting it done now.”

Cr Ripper was concerned people didn’t have enough time to comment on council’s submission. “We all want people to have jobs, because if you don’t have jobs you don’t have money and you can’t flourish as a family,” she said.

“But we have to weigh up, every time we make a decision, it’s followed by consequences.”

The meeting was held towards the end of the caretaker period, when council cannot make major policy or significant decisions, with the EES submission not falling into either category.

Submissions on the EES, draft planning scheme amendment and works approval application are due at by 5pm next Thursday, October 29.