A prospective $1.45 billion bauxite mine at the Gulf of Carpentaria has been granted conditional environmental approval, after five years of bureaucratic bickering between mining giant Rio Tinto Alcan and the Federal and Queensland governments.
Rio welcomed the milestone for the South of Embley project, which allows the company’s current bauxite portfolio on Queensland’s upper western apex to extend south along the border, past the Embley River near Cape York. The Queensland Government approved the plans a year ago, but the decision was vetoed by Federal Environment minister Tony Burke due to rising concerns of the possible impact on protected reef in the area.
Mr Burke granted official approval in May this year, subject to 76 conditions under national environmental law. They were particularly related to shipping activities in and around the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, as the bauxite mined at Cape York is shipped to Gladstone port, some 530km north of Brisbane on Queensland’s east coast.
“The conditions I have imposed today will ensure that shipping activity arising from this project does not negatively impact the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef and meets the highest international standards in its
planning, regulation, assessment and operation,” Mr Burke said in a statement. “Shipping has the potential to harm endangered species including dolphins, dugongs and turtles. Rio Tinto will be required to take steps including working
to an agreed marine management plan, supporting research into species of bats and helping stop feral pigs preying on nesting turtles.”
Rio will also have to work to an agreed marine and shipping management plan, temporary barge plan, dredging management plans and a terrestrial management plan to ensure the safety of species in the region.
Despite the heavy regulations, Rio Tinto Alcan president and chief executive for bauxite and alumina Pat Fiore gladly received the approval announcement.
“Respect for the environment is central to the way we operate, and we will ensure all the conditions for the construction and operation of the project are met,” Mr Fiore said.
“We have been mining bauxite on the cape and shipping it safely through dedicated shipping lanes to Gladstone for almost half a century.”
Construction was initially planned to begin later this year, employing up to 950 workers for 36 months. During operation, employee numbers will range up to 1200 depending on production rates. Operation was originally estimated to begin in 2016, though this timeframe will now strictly depend on Rio’s successful fulfilment of the stipulated conditions.