Gippsland community breathe a sigh of relief as Planning Minister makes welcome decision to reject Fingerboards mine

By November 24, 2021Media releases

MEDIA RELEASE

The Gippsland community can breathe a sigh of relief, as the Victorian Planning Minister has deemed a mineral sands mine, proposed to be built nearby significant waterways and a major food bowl, to be an unacceptable risk to the environment.   

The Fingerboards open cut mineral sands mine has been proposed for construction nearby highly fertile farmland, threatening a major Australian food bowl. It is also adjacent to the heritagelisted Mitchell River, which flows into the internationally significant wetlands of the Gippsland Lakes. 

Environmental Justice Australia Lawyer Virginia Trescowthick said:  

“This is a significant win for the Gippsland community and environment and is the result of tireless efforts from community group Mine-Free Glenaladale, and the Environmental Justice Australia legal team.  

“The Inquiry and Minister’s recommendations demonstrate that Kalbar’s Environment Effects Statement fell far short of what is required. Kalbar failed to properly consider, let alone demonstrate compliance, with the Environment Protection Act 2017 despite EJA and the EPA raising such concerns throughout the hearing. 

The Gippsland community has endured a seven-year battle to reach this outcome. In light of the recommendations of the Inquiry and the Minister, Kalbar should now withdraw all outstanding applications for the Fingerboards mine and acknowledge that this project will not proceed.” 

Mine Free Glenaladale spokesperson Debbie Carruthers said:  

“I am elated that Minister Wynne has made the right decision for our community and our environment. Gippsland residents have joined together to protect against the many affects this project would have had on our region and the government has heard our cries.”   

Following an inquiry into the environmental effects of the proposed mine this year, Planning Minister Richard Wynne announced today the environmental impact of the proposal by Kalbar Operations Pty Ltd would be unacceptable.   

This is the second time in 12 months EJA has successfully represented community groups opposing large projects. It is only the third time a proposal has been assessed as unacceptable by a Minister under the Environment Effects legislation, which came into effect in 1978. 

Throughout ten weeks of public hearings before an Inquiry and Advisory Committee earlier this year, EJA raised community concerns and presented expert evidence which heavily influenced the findings of the inquiry and the Planning Minister.  

The Inquiry’s Report, released today, found the proposal would pose an “extremely high risk” to farmland in the Lindenow Valley, “very significant” vegetation removal including more than 700 large old trees, and uncertainty around water availability and allocation of an already constrained resource in a drying climate.  Consistent with the Inquiry’s Report, the Minister has now assessed the environmental effects of the mine to be unacceptable.  

The final decision to approve or reject the mine will now be made by various decision-makers, including the Minister for Resources, Jaala Pulford, and the Environment Protection Authority.  

All decision-makers are required to take account of the Minister’s Assessment, which is likely to weigh heavily on their subsequent decisions.   

Background 

The Fingerboards mineral sands mine is a proposal by Kalbar Operations Pty Ltd to construct a 1,675 hectare open cut mineral sands mine 20km north-west of Bairnsdale, East Gippsland.  

The proposed mine is adjacent to the heritage listed Mitchell River which flows into the Gippsland Lakes – recognised as wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.  

It is also immediately upwind of the Lindenow Valley, a prime vegetable growing area.    

The community group, Mine-Free Glenaladale have raised serious concerns about the project, including:   

  • Overstated economic benefits of the project and understated costs  
  • Excessive extraction of water (either from the Mitchell River or the already depleted groundwater) 
  • Contamination of waterways (from tailings leaching into the groundwater and or from dam failure into the heritage listed Mitchell River) 
  • Risks associated with the particular landscape proposed to be mined (i.e. the soils are highly erosive and prone to collapse)  
  • Loss of more than 200 hectares of endangered and vulnerable native vegetation and habitat for threatened species  
  • Risks from exposure to radiation and  
  • General dislocation from a community and landscape that the local community love and call home.  

The Environment Effects Statement for the project was released for public comment in September 2020.   

An Inquiry and Advisory Committee commenced public hearings in early May 2021 which were completed in July 2021.   

EJA Lawyers represented Mine-Free Glenaladale with the pro bono assistance of barrister Emily Porter.    

On November 24, Minister Wynne assessed the environmental effects of the mine to be unacceptable.   

The next step is various statutory decisions to be made on whether the project should proceed, including by the Environment Protection Authority and the Resources Minister Jaala Pulford.   

All decision-makers are required to take account of the Minister’s Assessment, which is likely to weigh heavily on their subsequent decisions. 

Media contact: Kate Lewis, [email protected], 03 8341 3110

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