Kalbar Resources, a company that has no mining experience, has proposed a mineral sands and rare earths mine at Glenaladale, near Bairnsdale in East Gippsland.
The Fingerboards mine has not yet been approved by the Victorian Government, but after several years of investigation, Kalbar believes the site is suitable for an open cut mine to extract minerals including zircon, rutile and ilmenite — a titanium mineral, and rare earths.
Kalbar plans to extract about 200 million tonnes of ore from the site over 20 years.
The Lindenow flats, a high-value agriculture production region situated on the banks of the Mitchell River, is as close as 500 metres from the edge of the proposed mine's boundary.
The company has been preparing technical studies as part of the approval process, which include the impact of noise and traffic from the mine, plus the potential effect on air quality, agriculture, human health, biodiversity and water resources.
The studies will form part of the Environment Effects Statement (EES) required by the Victorian Government. The EES is expected to be completed in June 2019 and submitted to DEWLP for final review before being forwarded to the Minister for Planning, Hon Richard Wynne for consideration as to the next step. We expect that there will be the opportunity for the public to respond to the EES.
Why oppose it?
Food production. This is a food bowl that is worth approximately $200M annually, producing up to 50% of Victoria’s fresh vegetables depending on the season and 20% of McDonald’s lettuces nationally.
Kalbar will open cut an area of about 1,200 hectares to a depth of up to 45m. The minerals they seek are 4% of what will be removed - around 96% of the mined material is to be returned to the site. The proposed plan is to rehabilitate these areas and return them to farming. However, there is a real risk of contamination of this soil, there will be decades of disruption to the land, and there is a risk of the mine site not being rehabilitated (only one mine of the 150 operated in Victoria has ever been fully rehabilitated according to a study by The Australia Institute).
Water. East Gippsland has been experiencing extended drought conditions. This highlights the critical nature of water as an issue in the region, as the Kalbar mine will require at least 4GL+ of water annually. If this water was redirected to agriculture, it could employ an additional 1,000 people, as opposed to Kalbar’s estimate of 200 predicted jobs (134 contractors, 67 employees).
The Woodglen reservoir which supplies water to about 29,000 homes and 3,500 commercial premises is 3.5km downwind from the mine.
Public health. Silica dust is a significant health risk, as the mine is located where people live, work and children go to school. Locally, tank water is a source of drinking water for human and animal consumption, with the real risk of contamination.
Radioactive and highly toxic substances are going to be mined. Kalbar has not released effective data about the content or hazard rating of the ore or of the concentrate. Heavy metals experts say it will contain arsenic, lead, thorium (radioactive), vanadium (associated with reproductive issues), chromium and zinc. Titanium dust is a known carcinogen when inhaled. The world's best practice Californian EPA standards have a maximum acceptable level of zero for Vanadium dust.
Tailings dam. This is a ‘wet’ mining process, requiring substantial water in the processing, which will then need to be stored on site. The tailings dam will cover 60 hectares, with 20m high walls lined with clay. The dam will be located very close to the Perry River catchment that feeds into Lake Wellington (part of the Gippsland Lakes) and Providence Ponds (a unique chain of ponds, one of the last of its type in Victoria). There is a very high risk of leaching and contamination.
Cultural Heritage. Traditional Owners have not signed-off on this proposal. The Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation says “the proposed mining operation will disturb and hurt the cultural connection of the Traditional Owners to the land, air and water that is part of the development area”.
Tourism. With the heritage listed Mitchell River only 350 metres downwind from the mine, there are potential serious impacts on tourism on the Ramsar protected Gippsland Lakes area. Tourism is the 3rd largest employer in East Gippsland.
Transport. The mine will produce a concentrate which will be shipped overseas to be processed. During periods of peak production, this will involve large (80 B-Double) trucks on rural roads both day and night. Both the mineral concentrate and flocculants used on the tailings are to be transported by road and they are both expected to be hazardous materials. The route for taking the concentrate to port has not been disclosed.
The community opposes it.
- 82% of the directly impacted landholders where the mining project is to be located have responded to a survey question and said they want their land mineral sands mining free
- Over 4,200 people have signed a petition to the Legislative Assembly stating their opposition to the mine
- Over 240 local business owners and leaders of community groups have signed a petition to the East Gippsland Shire Council stating their opposition to the mine
- 75% (9 of the 12) horticultural business owners from the Lindenow Valley vegetable growing area (an industry worth nearly $200M/year and employing 1,500 people) have signed a letter of 31st January 2019 to Kalbar’s CEO rejecting Kalbar’s Horticultural Impact Study (part of the EES)
- A group called the East Gippsland Alliance has formed in opposition to the mineral sands and Benambra mines
Further information and getting involved
Check the facebook page of the local group Mine Free Glenaladale.
Get the story trending. If talking about the issue on social media, please tag in the planning minister, Richard Wynne, and use the hashtag #StopKalbar
One win in the larger campaign
In a heartening move, on July 22, 2019 the Minister for Resources Jaclyn Symes Prime announced the protection of some of the land at risk from this mine. The Andrews Government has exempted almost 4,000 hectares from mining and minerals exploration.
According to a government media release, “Minister for Resources Jaclyn Symes announced protection for the Mitchell River floodplain near Glenaladale – a prime irrigated horticultural area producing a wide variety of fresh vegetables including lettuce, cabbage, peas, capsicum and sweet corn.
The exempted area – stretching from Glenaladale to Hillside – is highly valued for its produce, with farm gate production estimated at over $100 million per year, providing up to 2000 permanent and seasonal jobs.
Geological studies show low potential for minerals development in the floodplain area, which makes mining in the area less likely to be commercially viable compared to the highly-productive horticulture businesses in that area”.
Stay tuned for the release of the Environmental Effects Statement.
Remember: people power works!
Communities across southern Victoria got organised against onshore gas drilling - and won. In response to sustained campaigning, the Victorian government implemented the first permanent ban in Australia on the process of fracking, and established a moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling. We can win this one too!