from aap via news.com
THE Northern Territory Government did a complete backflip in the space of a month over its handling of expansion plans for one of the region’s largest zinc mines, a court was told today.
Xstrata-owned McArthur River Mines (MRM) sought to turn its operation near the Gulf of Carpentaria from underground to open cut mining in March last year.
But an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) raised nine issues of concern and the company was told by the Government its application would be rejected.
A month later, the Government allowed the company to proceed with its application using a less stringent Public Environment Report (PER), the Supreme Court in Darwin heard today.
By October the Government had approved MRM’s $110 million expansion plans, allowing it to divert the McArthur River by 5.5km in a radical feat of environmental engineering.
A group of Aboriginal land owners from the region are fighting the decision, claiming the Government did not follow proper process.
Their lawyer, Tim Robertson, today said the Government allowed the company to provide an amended proposal, rather than insisting it start the entire application process again following the damning findings of the EIS.
“This is a complete turn around from the position expressed by the minister the previous month when she made it clear that the process of assessment was at an end and if they wanted to revisit that matter they had to recommence the proceedings,” he told the court.
“It seems now that the minister is suggesting that all they needed to do is to provide further information to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to solve these environmental issues.”
At the time, Mr Robertson said, MRM wrote to the Government thanking it for allowing the mining operation the opportunity to “clarify its position”.
But MRM also expressed concern about pursuing the new course of action, saying that, following legal advice, it felt the company should “go back almost to the beginning” (of the process).
“Reading between the lines of this letter, MRM seemed to have significant concerns about the legality of the course the Government proposed to embark upon and the likelihood of a legal challenge in the event that it did so,” Mr Robertson told the court.
He added: “How insightful that comment is.”
MRM made a number of environmental concessions after it was sent back to the drawing board in March, including funding an independent environment monitoring process and providing $32 million for a Community Benefits Package.
It also has to pay a $55.5 million security bond for the first year of development, which will inflate as the environmental fallout increases when the river is finally diverted in 2008.
By Tara Ravens
March 27, 2007 06:38pm