Kalbar Resources is seeking to develop a mineral sands mine near Glenaladale, northwest of Bairnsdale in far east Gippsland.
If approved, the proposed mine will be built at an area known as The Fingerboards, located at the crossroads of Bairnsdale-Dargo Rd and Fernbank-Glenaladale Rd, east of Lindenow, between Stratford and Bairnsdale.
Kalbar previously explored the area under a now expired exploration licence. They have recently been granted a retention license for the proposal.
The heavy mineral concentrate would be transported from the mine site to Port Anthony in south Gippsland, or possibly to Melbourne, to be shipped and processed at mills in Asia for ceramics, refractory, foundry, mobile phone and laptop batteries, paint, plastic and paper.
The company says the operation would directly employ ‘about 110 people’ and the project would have revenues of ‘about $150 million’ per year. However, resource companies often overstate the anticipated benefits of projects. Many in the local community are opposing the mine proposal.
Kalbar has bought one property in the Glenaladale area and, if approved, plans to construct the mine in 2018, with production expected to start in 2019. Kalbar is likely to export mineral sand concentrate from Port Anthony in South Gippsland.
Although the proposal was originally put forward several years ago, a more recent development has been the suggestion that if approved, the company would create a dam in the mine-void that would use rainfall and winter flow from the Mitchell River to ‘provide a year-round water supply for irrigators’.
This is clearly an attempt to build local support for the mining operation.
However this raises a bigger question: as the mining industry explores the idea of reusing old mine pits as water supplies, we need to be mindful of the fact that some experts are warning that the solution is not viable across much of the country.
Monash University Environmental Engineer Gavin Mudd said detailed modelling was required to prove these plans would actually work.
“In most of Australia we have typically what hydrologists would call a negative water balance – the evaporation rates typically are greater than annual average rainfall rates” Mudd said.
“Sometimes if you've got a large enough area that's feeding runoff water into the void it can offset the evaporation rates and it may actually turn out to be a positive water balance.
“But that's not commonly the case in most of Australia – the only places you would get that might be Tasmania, maybe up in the highland country of southeast Australia. But in the vast majority of Australia the difference [between inflow and evaporation] is too strong.”
In the case of the Kalbar Resources mineral sands mine, the company says it would leave a void capable of ‘providing a year-round water supply to irrigators’.
“Initial indications suggest demand may be around 8-10 gigalitres but the water storage facility can be scaled as required,” Kalbar Resources Executive Chairman Rob Bishop told the Weekly Times.
Mudd warned work was required to ensure water from mine voids was fit for purpose.
“Heavy metals shouldn't be a big issue with mineral sands mining, but salt will be. And one of the other minerals you get is monazite,” he said.
“Wherever you've got monazite, you have to deal with the radioactivity issues.”
Fingerboards resident Lionel Rose, who owns property near the proposed mine site, said most of his neighbours objected to the mine.
“It hasn’t got approval and they’re talking like it is a forgone conclusion,” he said.
Mr Rose said farmers in the area were worried about the risk of contamination from mine dust.
Kalbar Resources management were bluntly told to "pack up your bags" because they are not wanted in the area, at a public meeting at Glenaladale held in late 2014.
At the meeting, Kalbar Resources managing director, Rob Bishop, said the company was far from mining anything at Glenaladale and would not mine if a project would damage the interests of local residents and businesses.
Minefree Glenaladale was launched after the community meetings in 2014.
Lyn Johnston, a Minefree Glenaladale representative, said they weren't against mining, but felt this project was in an inappropriate environment which could have long term irreversible consequences.
Ms Johnston said the group also had concerns about noise and increased volumes of traffic from the mine site to south Gippsland.
She said they were also concerned about the impacts airborne dust containing silica and radioactive monazite could have on residents, animal pastures, household tank water supplies and wool and fibre production.