The Fingerboards Mineral Sands Project is a significant sand mining proposal centred around the Fingerboards intersection at Glenaladale.
East Gippsland Shire Council has serious concerns about the mine as currently proposed. In particular, Council is concerned about the threat it poses to endangered species and ecological communities, the potential for ground and surface water contamination, dust and radiation pollution, impacts on the surrounding road networks and the potential diversion of water from East Gippsland’s most productive agricultural land.
Council’s view is that the potential impacts of the mine have not been documented properly. Based on the information currently available, Council does not want to see the mine proceed. Should it proceed, Council seeks to ensure that a stringent and enforceable set of conditions are imposed by the State Government on any approval.
In order to do this, Council resolved to participate in the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Project Inquiry and Advisory Committee hearing. Participation at this hearing allows Council to explain to the Inquiry and Advisory Committee why it considers the current justification for the mine is deficient and gives it the opportunity to seek better environmental, social and economic outcomes for the community should the mine go ahead.
The IAC hearing is a 31-day hearing over 8 weeks involving 27 expert witnesses. Council requires a robust and rigorous interrogation of a large volume of highly complex technical information and expert evidence, as well as strategic advice on legal and procedural matters. A hearing of this size and complexity requires specialised legal representation and Council has chosen to engage Planology, a leading specialist planning law firm, to represent it at the hearing.
Council has also authorised the Chief Executive Officer or their delegate can be present at the panel hearing.
Council’s legal costs for its involvement in the hearing are estimated at $490,000, and costs to date are in the order of $160,000.
The project technical review prepared last year by Council’s consultant SLR Consulting Pty Ltd and submitted to the EES process cost $140,000.
If approval for the mine is refused, it will be because Council has been at the table. If approval is granted, Council’s representation will have provided it with the best opportunity to achieve sound and appropriate environmental, social and economic outcomes for the local community.
We are currently in a process of drafting a letter to the Planning Minister seeking support on the costs of this process and raising our concerns that local government and communities are required to be party to such expensive processes in ensuring the best outcomes for our communities and residents.
The hearing was scheduled to commence on 15 February 2021, however on 6 February Council was advised through its legal representation that the IAC Chair had made a decision to adjourn the commencement.
The adjournment was at the request of Mine Free Glenaladale and the proponent advising of its intention to submit supplementary information for each of its expert witness statements and to call additional witnesses. The IAC Chair sought Council’s view on the adjournment, and we confirmed our readiness to present to the panel, but did not oppose it. We did however raise our concerns about new information being submitted at this late stage.