A packed meeting in Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria on March 21 was horrified as the implications of a planned mineral sands mine in the area were revealed.
The Kalbar Resources mine has been in the planning stage for several years and is due to start next year. The site is at Glenaladale, about 20 kilometres from Bairnsdale in grazing country, but only 350 metres from the $200 million a year vegetable growing industry in the Mitchell River Valley.
The mine will be open-cut, with up to five holes operating at any one time, each 1 kilometre long, 500 metres wide and up to 40 metres deep. It will be the biggest mineral sands mine in Australia and will mine zircon, rutile, titanium and ilmenite. Mining is planned to last 20 years, processing 800 tonnes an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
There are many serious concerns.
Kalbar declares mining will cease on windy days to prevent dust laden with radioactive and or/carcinogenic chromium, vanadium pentoxide, thorium and titanium dioxide from blowing across the farmland and urban areas. However, this was not the experience of people in the Victorian Wimmera who were promised the same; it never happened. One farmer who challenged the mine owners (Iluka in that case) was told he would be charged $70,000 a day for lost production!
The mine requires about the same amount of water as used by the 29,000 households supplied by the Mitchell River. This water is not available locally. It is planned to be piped from the Sale aquifer, but that aquifer is fully committed and can only be released by purchasing existing water rights.
There will be an extra 40 B-double 72 tonne trucks a day, with road maintenance costs to be met by the East Gippsland Shire.
Run-off and siltation of the Mitchell River and Gippsland Lakes is inevitable in heavy rain, further damaging the world-renowned Silk Jetties, the Ramsar-listed wetlands and the tourist industry based on recreational fishing. There will be six tailings storage dams, each 10 hectares in size, at the head of the Perry River, which also flows into the Gippsland Lakes.
Speakers from the Wimmera talked about their experience of the Iluka Douglas mineral sands mine in their area. All promises of consultation, employment, compensation, monitoring, dust control and rehabilitation were reneged. Conditions imposed on the mine operation were not enforced. Radioactive materials were not buried as promised. The community was destroyed. Several people developed brain tumours. There were several Workplan Variations, which bypassed environmental regulations. Dust monitoring stations were placed upwind of the mine and only checked every seven days.
The Victorian Labor Government in 1990 legislated the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act to give mining priority over all other land uses. Farmers are forced by regulation to accommodate mining. This has not been changed by subsequent governments.
Promised rehabilitation does not occur. Of the 150 mines operating in Victoria, 122 are in care and maintenance mode, which can continue indefinitely, and only one has been classified as fully rehabilitated.
Communities receive no benefit from mines but suffer the costs of pollution, falling land values, impaired health and community destruction. Local councils lose revenue because mines do not pay rates.
While East Gippsland is a strong National Party area, people have fought and won major victories against governments before and will do so again. The battle against the proposed Very Fast Train land speculation proposal was successful in the early 1990s, the closure of the railway line was reversed, the Tambo Upper School closure was prevented, and more recently community action defeated coal seam gas mining.
The opposition to the mine is led by the East Gippsland Community Action Group and Mine-Free Glenaladale, which screened The Bentley Effect two weeks before the mineral sands meeting, increasing people’s determination to fight and win.