Alcoa transforms Victorian coal site into Eden on earth

An aerial view of the Eden project.

A former mine site will turn into a sight for sore eyes under Alcoa of Australia’s plan and partnership with the social enterprise Eden Project International.

Who would’ve thought that a former mine site could become Australia’s own Eden?

Highly unlikely as it may be, Alcoa’s former mine site in Anglesea, Victoria is turning into one.

A site that had nearly 50 million tonnes of coal extracted over a 46-year life will be redeveloped into a world-class eco-tourism attraction in partnership with an educational and environment social enterprise, the Eden Project.

The United Kingdom-based charity, which has redeveloped a china clay quarry in Cornwall into a major ecotourism project, has an ambition of creating a number of Edens around the world amid global environmental decline and social disruption.

“Eden’s mission is to explore our dependence on the natural world, to use that understanding to excite people into delivering transformation where they live and to ask really serious questions about what a great future might look like for all of us,” Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit has previously said.

The Eden Project Anglesea will immerse visitors in the extremes of the elements – earth, air, water and fire – and show that people are part of, and not apart from the environment, according to Alcoa of Australia Anglesea site asset manager Warren Sharp.

Eden Project has a great track record globally, working on multiple sites prior to developing the Anglesea concept.

So what was merely Alcoa’s desired legacy for the mine turned into a viable concept when the company met the Eden Project Cornwall team members in late 2017 through the introduction of mutual acquaintances.

Sharp tells Australian Mining that the Eden Project has been eyeing the Anglesea site for some time, having been referred to the site by politicians, community groups and a variety of local stakeholders over recent years.

“The area is really unique and there are some wonderful stories to tell,” Sharp says.

“They spent a good amount of time getting to know us, and they genuinely believe that we want to meet, if not exceed our obligations in the way we rehabilitate and manage the site.”

Although the Eden Project publicly says it does not rehabilitate mine sites, it has been blown away by Alcoa’s work on its mine rehabilitation closure plan, Sharp adds.

Alcoa has been developing its site rehabilitation plan since operations at the mine the ceased in 2015.

It also didn’t leave its rehabilitation until the last minute. By the time Alcoa announced its closure in 2015, the company had rehabilitated around 130 hectares of the site.

The proposed water body at the Anglesea site.

 

Alcoa’s vision is to rehabilitate the mine to the extent that it is long term, safe and sustainable. It also aims to return as much of the natural ecosystem as possible and revegetate the area with native species.

“We would also like to establish a waterbody and provide a long-term, sustainable water solution to an area that otherwise wouldn’t have one,” Sharp says.

“We’d also like to set up the land for productive and alternative use in a way that complements the future of the Anglesea region. This is where Eden really comes to the fore.”

The Anglesea project will celebrate “everything that’s great about this part of the world,” with landholdings framed by the Great Otway National Park, the Great Ocean Road, and Anglesea river and township.

Many people expressed excitement about the benefits the project could have on the local economy and jobs, particularly through tourism, according to the Eden Anglesea community report.

It is modelled on 750,000 visitors annually and more than 300 direct jobs all year round.

Others were pleased about the positive impact of sustainability and environmental education, and the opportunities the concept could offer to young people and school groups.

The project attracted more than 800 people to community consultation events in Anglesea, on top of the 3000 people who engaged online.

“Eden has specifically said that if the community doesn’t want it, we’re not going to fight that and we’re not going to come,” Sharp says.

“It turns out we’ve had a record number of people who have shown their engagement with the project, and the feedback we’ve received is overwhelmingly positive. They see it as an opportunity to highlight the environmental values of the region.

“We want people to come and think what they are seeing is unbelievable so that they would come back and bring their friends. We want it to be inspiring for people moving forward.”

Alcoa expects it will be at least four to five years until construction begins, with the project to cost around $150 million. The project will take residence over 40 hectares of land, with the actual physical built form occupying less than 10 per cent of the site.

The company has tried to extract coal from the region in a responsible way in its nearly five decades of operations in Anglesea, to the point it started mine rehabilitation back in the 1970s following early mining activities.

Over the course of this journey, Sharp says Alcoa has maintained an “excellent relationship” with the community, and is certainly grateful for having a privilege to operate next to a small town.

This article also appears in the October edition of Australian Mining. 

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