In October 2009 we ran a front page story in the Tasmanian Conservationist, ‘Nickel Mine Nightmare’, regarding the proposal by the New South Wales–based company Proto Resources to mine for nickel and other minerals in the Dans Hill Conservation Area and nearby private land near Beaconsfield. The original proposal, if approved, would have destroyed half the known individuals of the nationally listed, critically endangered plant species Tetratheca gunnii. It would have also involved mining 100 hectares of the conservation area, which was purchased in 1999–2000 with Australian Government funds through the Private Forests Reserve Program, specifically to protect T.gunnii; it is also important habitat for other threatened plant species and forest communities.
The Australian Government failed to refuse the project outright, as recommended by the TCT, deciding in November 2009 that the project requires assessment and, if it proceeds, approval, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and that the proposed mine would be assessed by the Tasmanian Environment Protect Authority (EPA) pursuant to the Tasmanian bilateral agreement.
However, our concerns regarding the project’s impacts on T.gunnii, other threatened plant species and land purchased for addition to the conservation area, has been acknowledged by the Tasmanian EPA in its final assessment guidelines, issued in March 2010. More importantly, our concerns had been noticed by the proponent, Proto Resources.
In February 2011, representatives of Proto Resources asked to meet the TCT to discuss our concerns and presented us with an outline of the revised mining proposal. Based on the December 2010 ‘Barnes Hill Nickel Cobalt Project Terrestrial Botanical Survey and Fauna Habitat Assessment’, the proponent has altered its mining proposal to ensure there will be no direct impacts on the threatened plant species T gunnii and Spyridium obcordatum. It also proposes some quite significant offsets (mining will cause considerable destruction to important forests within the conservation area) such as acquiring adjacent land for inclusion in the conservation area, and has moved the most damaging infrastructure (including very large spent ore dams and overburden storage areas) outside the conservation area into state forest.
While some of these measures are yet to be actually delivered, such as the land purchases, Proto Resources should be congratulated for making these very significant alternations to its project. As well as the expense of the proposed off-sets, it appears that the company has given up one small but important mineral deposit to ensure it has no direct impacts on T.gunnii. Some of our concerns regarding management of phytophthora, destruction of forest communities and other matters have not been addressed and we will seek further concessions from Proto. No large mining proposal in a natural area can ever have negligible impacts, but it is important to acknowledge mining companies for changing proposals, at considerable cost, in response to our concerns.
Proto Resources will shortly be submitting its full Development Proposals and Environmental Management Plan to the EPA and the TCT will make a further submission, looking to obtain the best possible outcome for the threatened species and forest communities.