Rio’s bauxite mine in Cape York gets the nod of approval

Rio Tinto has received environmental approval for the construction of its $1.3 billion bauxite mine expansion in North Queensland.

After more than a year of delays, Rio Tinto was today granted approval by Federal Environmental Minister Tony Burke to proceed with the South of Embley project, but must meet strict conditions aimed at protecting marine wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef.

 "The conditions I have imposed today will ensure that shipping activity arising from this project does not negatively impact the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef and meets the highest international standards in its planning, regulation, assessment and operation," Burke said in a statement.

In its EIS, Rio said construction would begin in or about 2013.

The company said 950 people would be employed on the $1.32 billion project during construction, pumping $264 million into the Weipa economy and $527.9 million in the Far North.

At full production of 50 million tonnes a year, 1346 people, including contractors, will be employed, with $1.5 billion being spent annually across Australia.

One of the demands made by Burke for the EIS is the impact of ships carrying the bauxite through the Great Barrier Reef between Wepia and the refineries at Gladstone and Yarwun.

The EIS said there would be 60 ships a year at the most, or 0.4 per cent of all shipping movements through the inner Reef passages.

This is a rise of 30 a year.

Pat Fiore, president of bauxite and alumina at Rio Tinto's Alcan aluminium division, said an investment decision would be taken before the project could proceed, The Australian reported.

"We have been mining bauxite on the Cape and shipping it safely through dedicated shipping lanes to Gladstone for almost half a century," he said adding the project would ensure the continued operation of Rio Tinto's refinery operations at Gladstone and more than 2000 jobs.

Rio Tinto has also been shortlisted to detail a proposal to develop the bauxite lode near the Watson River at Aurukun, north of Cairns.

The project is expected to be worth more than $25 billion in untapped resources.

Chalco, Cape Aluminia and Glencore International are all vying to develop the mine.

It is thought Rio Tinto is the frontrunner in the pitch, having the advantage of existing port access and water resources in the area.

Rival bidders would have to negotiate access to the Rio-owned facilities.

The company has until September to lodge its plans, with a decision regarding proponents set to be made before the end of the year.

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