15/11/2007 - 16:00

Rio's Mesa A project gets conditional approval

15/11/2007 - 16:00

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State Environment Minister David Templeman has toughened some of the conditions of Robe River Mining Company Ltd's planned development of mine pits at its Mesa A and Warramboo sites in the Pilbara.

State Environment Minister David Templeman has toughened some of the conditions of Robe River Mining Company Ltd's planned development of mine pits at its Mesa A and Warramboo sites in the Pilbara.

The proposal by Robe River, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, was found to be environmentally unacceptable by the Environmental Protection Authority in March this year, after it found the proposal could not meet the EPA's objectives in relation to subterranean fauna, landforms, closure planning and rehabilitation.

However, the EPA later revised its decision after being provided with further information during the April appeal process, allowing work to proceed on the project.

That decision was subject to appeal, with Robe River Mining Co Pty Ltd and the Conservation Council of WA Inc taking the decision to the independent appeals convenor, who today handed down a ministerial appeal determination on Mr Templeman's behalf.

The matter of the most concern to conservationists was the potential for the loss of habitats of troglobitic fauna - insects living in the underground caves that could be disturbed through the construction of a planned transport corridor, leading to the possible extinction of the species.

To ensure this did not occur, the Minister said it was important to retain a large volume and continuity of the habitat, setting a condition that the habitat in the subgrade below the mine pit following mining that would be greater than 15m remain both continuous and adequately connected to the mining exclusion zone.

Mr Templeman also called for tighter requirements to control pit dimensions following mining.

The Minister noted that the EPA recommended conditions do not contain a rigorous requirement that the mining should be carried out to ensure the depth of material suitable for troglobitic fauna habitat to be retained under the pit floor after mining would be as proposed. The Minister required, therefore, that conditions be set that require the following:

  • That prior to commencement of mining, the proponent provides to the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) an accurate 3- dimensional plan of the proposed final contours of the mine pit following mining and rehabilitation that would ensure the depth of material suitable for troglobitic fauna habitat that would be retained under the pit floor after mining would be as proposed and shown in Figure 3 of the Appeals Convenor report
  • - the planned pit shell;
  • The proponent is required to carry out works consistent with the planned pit shell;
  • That the proponent is required to carry out an annual audit to determine the actual pit shell contours for the area of the project where mining and rehabilitation has been completed and compare that to the planned pit shell;
  • In locations where the actual pit shell is deeper than the planned pit shell (operational error), the proponent is required to carryout such remedial works as to return the removed habitat;
  • It should be conditioned that a maximum operational error in meters should be set (i.e. a maximum unintended excavation below what was planned) as well as a total maximum area that can be subject to operational error, and the limits recommended by the Appeals Convenor seem reasonable;
  • The proponent is to report annually to the DEC on how the actual pit shell contours for the area of the project where mining and rehabilitation has been completed compares with the planned pit shell following any remedial works and the extent of any operations errors; and
  • That some flexibility be included to allow for minor changes to the actual pit shell as new information becomes available provided the troglobitic fauna habitat criteria are not changed.

The Minister considered that such a condition would give a high degree of certainty that the final troglobitic fauna habitat retained under the pit floor after mining would be as proposed.

A spokeswoman for the minister said that now the determinations had been made, Mr Templeman would consult with cabinet colleagues and issue a statement of approval with the conditions in the next few weeks.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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