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Byron Shire
April 13, 2021

National Park remediation could generate ‘$30m’

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Rob English and his dog on narrow Gap Road leading to the Black Rocks campground in Bundjalung National Park. Photo supplied
Rob English and his dog on narrow Gap Road leading to the Black Rocks campground in Bundjalung National Park. Photo supplied

Chris Dobney

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) says a claim that a resource contractor could secure a $30 million windfall from removing a stockpile of ilmenite in Bundjalung National Park is unrealistic and insists the removal of the tailings from a former sand mine is bona fide remediation.

But the author of a leaflet that has been circulating among local green groups, urging them to make submissions against the project before the closing date this Friday, stands by his claim.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) proposes to remove up to 150,000 tons of ilmenite left over from a former sand mine in a riparian zone in the heart of Bundjalung National Park, adjacent to Black Rocks campground.

The leaflet’s author, Rob English, told Echonetdaily, he had ‘grown up in the area and have being going to Bunjalung NP since I was a kid’.

He added that he is a ‘qualified horticulturalist and know what’s required’ to remediate the site.

Among other claims made in the leaflet are: a lack of environmental assessment concluding the environmental benefit of the project; a lack of transparency; potential threats and inconvenience to users of the narrow gravel road leading to the site; and the potential for threat to wildlife from heavy vehicle movement.

NPWS have awarded the tender to Flagship Commodities Pty Ltd, which promotes itself in its website being ‘focused on project managing the rehabilitation of former mining sites with substantial tailings stock’.

Flagship was contracted by NPWS to undertake not only the sand mining but also the community consultation, licensing and approvals on their behalf.

Mr English and his partner Pelli Howe moved to Gap Road, which is the access road to the site, in November 2013, just months after the company undertook its initial consultation with local residents.

Subsequent consultations proved less than illuminating, he said.

‘Flagship called a meeting of adjoining landholders in Evans Head late last year and NPWS, the proponent, failed to attend or send apologies. At this meeting residents were promised a further meeting during the exhibition period which did not eventuate,’ Mr English said.

‘We are very concerned about a number of issues including safety on this very narrow road,’ Mr English said.

‘NPWS turned up at a neighbour’s place recently and asked them to distribute the Review of Environmental Factors to other neighbours.  This is not a proper consultation process,’ said Ms Howe.

She also noted that ‘NPWS originally provided the public with only 30 days to respond with submissions due on Christmas Eve. This was inadequate given everyone’s preoccupation with the holiday period.’

‘NPWS eventually extended the submission period to 30 Jan 2015. But the extension of time doesn’t make up for their lack of consultation’ Ms Howe said.

‘There was also the problem of National Parks being both the proponent and its department, the consent authority, a real conflict of interest,’ said Mr English.

He claims OEH and Flagship are merely ‘promoting the project as remediation’, adding ‘the only environmental assessment [recommends] that the material be left in situ. It appears that the only benefit of this project is the money,’ Mr English said.

Concerned: Gap Road resdients Rob English (left) and Pelli Howe.
Concerned: Gap Road resdients Rob English (left) and Pelli Howe.

Claims refuted

An OEH spokesperson told Echonetdaily the ilmenite is the by-product of sand mining from the 70 and 80’s, ‘much of which was produced before the park was declared in 1980’.

‘The Environmental and Earth Sciences environment report commissioned by the NPWS in 2002, to assess the environmental risk of the ilmenite, recommended preparation of an environmental management plan to be able to manage the stockpile in situ,’ the spokesperson admitted.

‘The report stated that it was economically unviable to remove the stockpile at the time but that it should be removed if it became economically viable to do so,’ he added.

‘The Plan of Management for the park recommends removal based on the advice that the ilmentite provides a low level of toxicity which over time will erode into the adjacent Jerusalem Creek and that it was in the longer term interests of the park that the ilmenite be removed and the area be properly rehabilitated.

‘Extensive environmental impact assessment by reputable consultants has been conducted on behalf of the successful tenderer for removal and rehabilitation in July 2013. These studies form part of the Review of Environmental Factors being assessed and determined by OEH,’ the spokesperson said.

He added that the ilmenite is stockpiled over an area ‘of about two hectares and up to 12 metres high’.

He said that vegetation coverage that might prevent erosion ‘is poor across large areas and was recently affected by wildlfire which has meant the rate of erosion of the stockpile has increased’.

‘Ecological restoration is the main aim of this project. Before any other site works commence, seed and cuttings will be collected from the site and grown at a licensed nursery to be ready to plant out when the site is ready. The plan is that the company which removes the ilmenite will carry out rehabilitation in stages and at no cost to the taxpayer. Rehabilitation will reflect the species mix in adjacent undisturbed areas,’ the spokesperson said.

Flagship aggressive

Flagship Resources has even more aggressively denied the claims on its website, saying Mr English ‘has never visited the site to be briefed on it or ask questions, despite living about 15 minutes away’.

It describes claims that digging could extend to up to eight metres as ‘a lie’ and says Mr English simply ‘made up’ the $30 million figure.

But Mr English denies the numbers are made up.

The company says ‘the long list of people and organisations that were consulted starting in May 2013…range from Gap Road residents to the Richmond Valley Council to local Aboriginal representatives, 4WD enthusiasts and many more’.

Regarding transparency, the company says that over ‘two long years and at enormous expense we have busted our arse [sic] to check every box and talk to everyone’.

It accused Mr English and Ms Howe of deliberately waiting to the last minute to distribute the leaflet, suggesting ‘if defamation and libel laws have been breached, it would take longer than the remaining week to for us to gain and act on legal advice to deal with the offenders, who need to be traced through their phone numbers as they did not have the courage to append their names to the document’.

Mr English said his name was left off the leaflet as a result of an ‘editing error’. He described Flagship’s comments on its website as ‘possibly defamatory themselves’ but said, ‘I’m not interested in getting involved in defamation.’

He added that Flagship ‘proposes leaving sections on the bank adjacent to Jerusalem Creek. It’s counter to the tender documents and the plan of management.’

‘I appreciate that National Parks have had a $27 million cut to their budget, so they’re looking at all these zero cost activities but their plan of management hasn’t’ changed since 1987. This is another point on their plan that they want to tick off but the plan is outdated and irrelevant,’ Mr English said.

OEH says uses for the ilmenite, once removed and reprocessed, could include ‘the manufacture of some paints and as a coating for welding rods’.

Submissions on the project close at 5pm on Friday January 30 and can be made online or by email to [email protected]


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10 COMMENTS

  1. Chris Downey wrote an article about my company, without any attempt to contact or discuss this with me. Then he writes topic lines and headings like “flagship aggressive”. What school of journalism promotes such one sided reporting ?

    Normal periods to respond to a Review of Environmental Factors is 30 days. Residents have had since 23 November 2014 when these were issued. The documents that we had prepared by specialists (all locals who are respected for their expertise) were available for review by residents including Rob in October. So about half the documents have been available to Rob for around 3 months, the full documents available on OEH, NPWS and my website since 23 November. All residents had a CD delivered to them. Instead of the normal 4 weeks, they got 11 weeks, and in the last week, suddenly got active in contacting people. RVC and Residents of Gap road other than Rob travelled down the road together with us to give suggestions that further beefed up the Transport related planning and were incorporated in our documents.

    NPWS want to remediate it properly, removing the sand is an expensive exercise, if there is a little left over after sale in this market then I’ll be pretty happy. Major ilmenite exporters Iluka and Sibelco have shut down production several production lines due to the low price, so hopefully that will help me save the government money and make a living at the same time, naturally I’d prefer a strong market though.

    For readers, If you have any questions, here’s my mobile number. 0448 595 403.

    • For the record my name is Chris Dobney. It is true I did not feel the need to contact you given the 1,400-word rebuttal to Mr English’s 1-page leaflet already on your website, which I accurately quoted from. My story included comment from all 3 sides at some considerable level of detail. I’m happy for our readers to decide for themselves whether the comments on your website are aggressive or not. http://www.flagshipcommodities.com/bundjalung-rehabilitation

      • Thanks Chris, sorry I got your name wrong. Rob’s name is not referred to in our website, nor as you point out, his own document. The giveaway was the mobile phone number. I might take the comments on board and have a look at the wording on my website. I have never been slandered behind my back by an anonymous message before, so I was grumpy. Freedom of expression matters, but when it involves false information a line of civilised behaviour has clearly been crossed. I think most people might feel aggressive under the circumstances. It took ages just to “tone it down” to whats currently up there !

        • My partner, Pelli Howe and I authored the action alert referred to. I would make the following observations with regards to the information contained in the flier;

          Natural Resources worth ~$30M: At a meeting at Evans Head RSL Club I asked Mr. Dean whether the resource was worth $30M to which he said yes. Several other attendees of the meeting have since agreed. The figure used in the flier was agreed by the company at a public meeting.

          Excavated to 8m: At the same meeting the Project Manager told residents that excavation could occur to 8M. Reference is also made to subsurface excavation in the Works Programme Operations Plan, though I appreciate the final depths remain unknown and will be the subject of further consideration. Again, the figure used in the flier has since been confirmed by other attendees.

          NPWS Quote and Mining vs Rehabilitation: The quotation was included in a GIPA request from a local resident to OEH. A copy of which can be viewed on the OEH’s Disclosure Log on their website. This communication was of concern to me and demonstrates the definitions are tenuous. The quotation included in the flier was true and accurate to the best of our knowledge.

  2. I have researched documents relating to this ilmenite removal project and I am of the strong opinion that there has always been an intent by NPWS to remove the ilmenite and only cherry pick what it needed from scientific reports to support that intent. The detrimental environmental and social impact of transporting this material down a narrow dirt tourist/residential road 5 days a week for 5 years is far greater than leaving it in the ground. If this project gets the green light The Gap Road users should fear for their life as 40 tonne behemoths will be bearing down upon you 20 times per day.
    Please stop this project in its tracks.

    • Joe,

      Last year you went with our representative in the same car, down the Gap road, and I thought we got some very constructive feedback and improved our transport plan. We will slow to 40 KM past your and Rob’s houses, and where required, use water to suppress dust. As you are fully aware, it will not be 5 days a week, for five years; either it involves many trucks per day and is over quickly, or very few and drags on for ages. If you are not at home during the week, you will not be affected. At all. If you are, you will hear trucks, on some days, briefly, and not too loud. On the asphalt part we will be going 60, at the request of residents including yourself. I think it was a good suggestion.

      If the project is stopped I expect that the next best option is capping it again, which means bringing covering sand in by truck, presumably once every five or ten years, forever, until it is eventually removed. At the end of the day I am just the contractor who won the NPWS competitive tender, but it seems to me from what I have learned through this process is that remediating it properly by taking it out makes sense and this is ultimately the best option, even for those who live near the public road and would be affected by whatever remediation option is taken.

      I think it is high time we started focusing on working together to make the least impact, rather than tilting at windmills trying to stop a project that is required for environmental management.

  3. Good on you Rob and Pelli for standing up and having your say, in the public interest. I thought Chris Dropknee’s report was pretty balanced myself. I would hate to see this come to a defamation case – this public type of media discussion is appropriate and should not be silenced in my opinion. It’s appropriate that companies dealing with public assets are thoroughly scrutinised and they should be prepared for same. I think the public wants to know if such people as Rob and Pelli with relevant qualifications have concerns. Now maybe the debate can continue and the project postponed/ abandoned pending further investigation. This is not so much about the hurt feelings of a company, this is about public interest in public lands.

  4. I know the public theoretically have had legal notice of the project since November 2014 but NPWS has been aware of its intent since 1997 as evidenced by its Plan of Management for the Park.

    Since then it has been consistently reacting to ( “the proactive” approaches of private entrepreneurs to remove the ilmenite) without calling for the comment of key stakeholders knowing that the only route out of the the Park is The Gap Road. It is inconceivable that a normal thinking person would be ignorant of the fact that large trucks and heavy volume of traffic would result and have a huge negative impact on the social fabric and amenity of residents of The Gap Road AND the safety of road users. NPWS chose to give no other prior notice than an expression of intent in an obscure Plan of Management.

  5. This former mining waste should certainly be removed from the park, really it should have happened a long time ago but I guess these things take time. It is wonderful that the wildnerness is boing to be restored to its former state!

  6. I strongly oppose any work of this nature in any national parks. Having trucks along gap road is dangerous for people, wild life and flora. It is such I shame that companies are only required to give such a short time for the public to object. I have been camping at black rocks since early childhood and am appalled that this project is being considered. The environmental plan on the website is completely unacceptable as it states in many cases to notify the principle and not to take any other direct action if any plants or animals are effected or if there are any spills. In my opinion I would hate to see this project go ahead.

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