The public hearing for the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Project Inquiry and Advisory Committee (IAC) concluded last week after 10 weeks and 36 hearing days.
East Gippsland Shire Council participated fully in the hearing, using expert witness and legal representation to seek the best environmental, social and economic outcomes for the community. Representation at the hearing was a decision of Council on 1 December 2020.
In February Council indicated hearing costs were estimated at $490,000 for the initial 31-day expected hearing timeline.
Council was later briefed that the cost of legal representation for the hearing could rise to approximately $700,000, given an increase in preparation and hearing days as a result of more information being presented by other parties, the proponent introducing new material and revised expert statements and requests for adjournment.
The hearing concluded this month after 10 weeks and 36 hearing days, plus three directions hearings.
Costs to Council for the IAC hearing as of 30 June are $589,000.
Acting Chief Executive Officer Stuart McConnell said this is within the estimated $700,000, after an increase in hearing days and large volume of new material.
“There has also been a significant effort made by council staff to positively support the hearing process and manage the process and costs,” Mr McConnell said.
“Participation in the hearing has come with a cost, but it has allowed Council to explain why it considered the Environmental Effects Statement (EES) was deficient.
“We were able to use the opportunity to seek better environmental, social and economic outcomes for the community should the mine go ahead.”
Mr McConnell said Council has maintained its transparency with the community throughout the process, and Councillors have been kept fully briefed on all costs associated with the IAC hearing throughout.
“The system, including the timing of the EES, has been time consuming and resource heavy for Council, not just in terms of dollars but in terms of the staff levels to support that process,” Mr McConnell said.
The IAC has 40 business days to prepare a written report for the Minister for Planning. The Minister for Planning will then decide if, and when, to release the report and the release of the Minister's Assessment of the Environmental Effects. All details and recordings relating to the hearing can be found on the Engage Victoria website. This includes Council’s full submission in the ‘Tabled Documents’ section of the webpage.
The project technical review prepared last year by Council’s consultant SLR Consulting Pty Ltd and submitted to the EES process cost $140,000.