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.
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 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’.