Indigenous owners and a mining company have inked a deal to develop a coal mine in Cape York on the northern tip of Queensland.
Cape York Indigenous leader Gerhardt Pearson and the Kalpowar people inked the deal with Bounty Mining for the region’s first mine, the Wongai project, the ABC reported
It is predicted the small project will generate around 1.1 million tonnes of coal every year for export.
The mine will be constructed near Cape York’s Lakefield National Park, with coal being trucked to the coast through present nature reserves.
Bounty Mining director Rob Stewart said the coal will then be put onto barges and moved to ships offshore.
Stewart said the mine will not need a port, which means dredging can be avoided in the region.
“What we’ve chosen to do, because it’s a small-scale mining operation, is to barge the coal from shallow water out to deeper waters where we would have a ship anchored at a trans-shipment point, which is quite a common practice in many overseas countries but it’s not common in Australia,” he said.
“You transfer the coal from the barge to the ship in deeper waters. Some of the environmentalists would rightfully say that’s a point of concern; how do you trans-ship without spilling coal, and that sort of thing.
“It is done very efficiently and very effectively in many other countries. Indonesia in particular has a lot of trans-shipment points.”
Stewart also said Indigenous owners will earn revenue from the sale of coal and they can also get jobs on the venture.
He predicts there will be between 250 and 270 jobs offered during the construction stage and around 200 jobs at the operation stage.
But conservationists are worried about an environmental catastrophe at the Great Barrier Reef if the mine goes ahead.
UNESCO is contemplating listing the GBR on the World Heritage sites and has alerted against building of new ports or higher shipping in the area.
The Wilderness Society’s Queensland campaign manager Dr Tim Seelig said one accident was all that was needed for the Wondai project to put UNESCO on high alert.
“There is no question that UNESCO are going to have major problems with any proposal to be shifting coal from barges onto container ships in the Great Barrier Reef area,” he said.
“That’s just environmental madness. And it’s inconceivable that UNESCO would allow that to happen.”
But Stewart is unperturbed.
“We think it’s unlikely. If we thought that was a major concern then we’d have more issues about joining into the project at this stage,” he said.
Seelig said traditional owners are backing the mine only because they need the jobs and the money.
“Traditional owners then sometimes are left to look to mining for short-term, limited – very limited – job opportunities when really governments should be seizing the opportunity of the immense natural competitive advantage that a place like Cape York has.
“Use the potential that World Heritage can provide to create tens of thousands of jobs, huge income streams. That is a much more sustainable and viable way forward.”
With the Coalition promising to cut back green tape and Queensland Premier urging it to hasten project approvals, Seelig said he expects Wongai coal to get “their blessing and their backing”.
The Queensland government gave the project significant project status last year.
The state and federal governments, as well as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority need to grant approval before construction can start.