Friday 11/01/13 Tom Arup, The Age
MELBOURNE Water has stepped in to ensure greater protection of a waterway in a mining area in the Wombat Forest, near Daylesford, after the state government first said it was unnecessary.
In a December 20 letter to the Environment Defenders Office, Melbourne Water said the small waterway within a mining lease in the Wombat Forest, 50 kilometres west of Melbourne, was under its management and the mine proponents would have to seek permission to work near it.
The decision contradicts advice from state Resource Minister Michael O'Brien's office in an October letter, seen by Fairfax Media, that said the waterway was not recognised under state law.
The small Wombat Forest mining lease – about five hectares – was granted in 2007 by the former Labor state government. Fortitude Mining plans to explore for gold and expand the operations if successful.
Last year, the Baillieu government approved the company's work plan for a ''bulk sample operation'' at the site, allowing 5000 tonnes of material to be extracted from the ground.
Opponents are fighting the project, which they claim may result in a massive open-cut mine. Conservationists want the 70,000-hectare forest, which is Crown land, turned into a state park, preventing mining.
In its letter Melbourne Water said a review had found a small waterway on the site that was under its management.
''As such, it is our view that a works licence or permit is required from Melbourne Water to carry out the proposed works that affect the waterway,'' the letter says.
''We will be having further discussion with DPI [the Department of Primary Industries] and the proponent around the work practices to be applied in order to protect relevant environmental value at and downstream of this site,'' the letter said.
Melbourne Water's Greg Bain said the water authority was now ''seeking further information … to determine the exact location of the proposed works''. He said a permit may be required if works come within 20 metres of a waterway.
In an October letter, a senior adviser to Mr O'Brien wrote: ''Regarding the waterway you have identified within the site, this site is not listed as a designated watercourse or defined as a waterway under the Water Act 1989.'' The adviser went on to write that the company had to take all reasonable measures to prevent contaminated runoff from entering waterways.
A spokeswoman for the minister said advice was originally received by the Department of Primary Industries and Southern Rural Water. She said further information had since come from the department and Melbourne Water.
Fortitude Mining director Lyle Palmer said while he disagreed with the determination, he had previously been told by Southern Rural Water that the decision would not affect the planned work.
Wombat Forestcare spokeswoman Gayle Osborne said the department and the state government were failing to consult or explore the environmental impacts of mines proposed in the Wombat Forest.