Threat to Rio project

CAVE-DWELLING fauna could threaten a Pilbara iron ore mine and processing plant proposed by Rio Tinto after the Environmental Protection Authority recommended against the development. The proposal, by Rio Tinto subsidiary Robe River Mining Company Ltd, to develop new mine pits at its Mesa A and Warramboo sites, along with a primary sizer processing plant, rail lines and associated infrastructure, was found environmentally unacceptable by the EPA. EPA chairman Wally Cox said the proposal could not meet the EPA’s objectives in relation to subterranean fauna, landforms, closure planning and rehabilitation. “Extensive research and sampling conducted by the proponent (Robe River) has identified a number of new species of troglobitic fauna unique to Mesa A,” Dr Cox said in an announcement. “Unfortunately five species that occur in the area to be mined have not been found in the area to be set aside as the mining exclusion zone. “There is also concern over the long term structural stability of the landform post-mining.” A spokeswoman for Robe River said the company would appeal the recommendation, saying the company was looking forward to working with the EPA to resolve the matter. The company’s development proposal, submitted in June last year, acknowledged the development would result in the loss of a habitat for troglofauna – animals that live only in caves. “The construction of the transport corridor will potentially lead to disturbance to small areas of troglofauna habitat,” the report says. “Disturbance of these areas may directly result in some direct mortality of troglofauna, however the conservation status of these species involved will not be affected. “It appears likely that most of the extraneous impacts of the proposal can be managed effectively through proper project design or operational procedures.” The EPA report is subject to appeal until the close of business on April 9 2007. - Andrew Hobbs

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