As the need for port and rail infrastructure to support the burgeoning Mid West iron ore region grows, the Oakajee Port and Rail Project has overcome hurdles and finally begun to move forward after seemingly stagnating while seeking construction and environmental approvals.
Two major infrastructure proposals for the Oakajee deepwater port and rail project have now been given conditional approval by the Environmental Protection Authority.
EPA chairman Paul Vogel said OPR’s proposals to construct and operate iron ore handling storage facilities and operate a 45 million tonne export facility at Oakajee, as well as to construct a 570 kilometre rail line from the port to the Jack Hills mine could meet the objectives that were set out by the EPA, if the recommended conditions are implemented.
"Both of these proposals demonstrated the value of impact assessment: high quality environmental information from the proponent and a shared understanding of project and assessment timeframes," Vogel said.
An Oakajee spokesperson told Australian Mining that ensuring the environmental health and safety will be a top priority.
"The EPA’s recommendation to approve the Oakajee port and rail project represents a significant milestone for the OPR project," the spokesperson said.
"The recommendations include a number of conditions to ensure issues such as noise, dust and vegetation are properly managed.
"OPR considers these conditions appropriate given the total scope of the project.
"Oakajee Port and Rail looks forward to continuing to work with the EPA, the government agencies and other stakeholders to finalise project approvals and our proposed management approach."
In addition to the environmental approval the Oakajee project also requires Aboriginal heritage approval from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Peter Collier, rail-enabling legislation enacted by the Western Australian Parliament and native agreements with the claimant groups.
It must also have its Supply Chain Agreements signed with the Western Australian Government before it can start construction.
Conditions for the port’s approval include the purchase of land parcels for conservation and funding of research projects into threatened fauna, to offset the loss of native vegetation and habitat.
Vogel told WA Today that the discharges from the Oakajee Port’s desalination plant were unlikely to impact significantly on the area’s existing water quality.
"Modelling undertaken so far for dust emissions has shown that the likelihood of impacts outside the established Oakajee Industrial Estate is low and can be regulated through the licensing provisions of the Environmental Protection Act with best practice management measures required to be adopted before approval to operate is granted," he said.
Under the conditions for the rail approval, the company must submit maps of locations of key conservation assets before construction begins and it has agreed to offsets for impacts to Carnaby’s Cockatoo, Malleefowl and the Western Spiny-tailed skink.
Conditions for the rail approval include submitting maps of locations of key conservation assets prior to construction, and offsets have been agreed to for impacts to Carnaby’s Cockatoo, Malleefowl and Western Spiny-tailed skink’s habitats.
The operation of rail must not exceed the noise criteria laid out.
"The construction and operation of the railway must ensure that surface water diversion, erosion and sedimentation do not cause the loss of, or adverse impacts to, significant vegetation beyond 50 metres either side of the railway centreline," Vogel said.
"Apart from two constrained areas there is to be no ground disturbance within 50 metres of Western Spiny-tailed Skink habitat or Malleefowl mounds with all construction areas to be inspected prior to disturbance.
"There is also to be a plan formulated to protect the conservation values of the proposed Woolgorong, Twin Peaks and Narloo Conservation Parks from the ongoing impacts of the infrastructure proposal.
"This approach will provide long term environmental benefits through the protection and management of high quality remnant native vegetation in the region."
Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron Ore Mid West Koolyanobbing project has previously won a Golden Gecko award for its working relationship with the Malleefowl Preservation Group and its continual monitoring of the bird’s population on its project’s territory, which is a significant Malleefowl habitat area.
The miner has the largest continually monitored Malleefowl population in Australia.
In early March Western Australia’s Opposition state development spokesperson, Mark McGowan, accused Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett of acting like a dictator on the Oakajee infrastructure project and urged him to grant the port and rail extension for the port.
Barnett later set out a set of ‘stringent’ guidelines which the port and rail project must meet before begin granted full approval.
If all approvals are granted, Oakajee expects to commence early work such as roads at the end of this year, with construction continuing until 2014-15 and first shipments potentially scheduled for 2015.