THE future of the world’s biggest zinc mine is in jeopardy after a court victory by traditional landowners yesterday.
Supreme Court judge David Angel ruled that the Territory Government did not follow correct procedures when approving expansion of the McArthur River mine last year.
He said a mining plan did not authorise Swiss-based Xstrata to switch from an underground to an open-cut operation.
Work was supposed to begin on the $110million project this dry season, which officially starts today.
Mines Minister Chris Natt said last night he was still studying the shock decision.
The Government must now decide whether to appeal to the full bench of the Supreme Court or go through the approval process again.
Mine manager Brian Hearne would not give a guarantee that the mine would remain open.
The Territory Minerals Council refused to comment last night.
But miners are known to be aghast at the decision, which threatens the closure of the mine with the loss of 350 jobs.
The Northern Land Council, which brought the action on behalf of traditional owners from Borroloola, applauded the court decision.
Chief executive Norm Fry said it was a “victory for common sense”.
The Environment Centre’s Charles Roche said the judgment was a “great win” for the environment.
“This should raise the bar that we will accept nothing less than best practice,” he said.
The project would have altered the course of the McArthur River for 5.5km.
The company said the underground mine was no longer viable and the development of an open-cut operation was the only way to secure the mine’s future.
The Government sent the plan back to the drawing board to deal with environmental concerns.