Major win for conservation groups on North Stradbroke Island against sand mining

[Editor’s Note: The Supreme Court decision referred to in the Media Release below does not relate to nor does it directly affect attempts by indigenous and environmental groups to stop construction sand being stolen by Unimin from the Vance Mine referred to in Quandamooka land claim frustrated by 16 years of unlawful sand mining ]

MEDIA RELEASE STRADBROKE ISLAND MANAGEMENT ORGANISATION 23.7.2010

A mining company’s plans to truck construction sand off North Stradbroke Island for a hundred years is in tatters today.

The Supreme Court of Queensland decision handed down this morning has brought to an end the attempts of Unimin Australia Ltd to overturn a unanimous decision of 2008 by Redland City Council rejecting the application from a Unimin subsidiary to remove the sand from the island.

The judgement was three to nil.

Conservationists had always argued the sand belonged on the island and should be used to fill in the mighty void left by Enterprise mine (graphically featured in numerous newspaper reports, see above).

The miners had built an argument that the sand was “excess”. Yet at the same time, they never intended to use it to fill in the void at the end of mining.

In April 2008 SIMO wrote in its Newsletter:

“CRL calls the sand ‘excess’ and a ‘waste’ product from mining. SIMO disputes this fiction. On a sand island, the idea of ‘excess’ sand is an oxymoron. All the sand is integral to the island. Sand remaining after extraction of minerals is required to be returned to re-form the landscape. The island is not a quarry.”

The mining company is required under its mining lease to put back all the sand it mines to recreate the original landform. The two huge, bare stockpiles of non-mineral sand – that the miner hoped to truck off the island at the rate of up to 500,000 tonnes per annum for a hundred years or more – can be seen from Brisbane.

These stockpiles sit on two expired leases.

One of those, ML1117, expired three years ago. Environmentalists are calling on the government not to renew the leases and to ensure that all the stockpiled sand is put back into the gaping pit of the Enterprise mine.

The mine pit is now quite close to the stockpiles, and there is no excuse for not returning the sand to fill the hole.

Today’s Appeal Court finding for conservation groups SIMO, FOSI, Birkdale Progress Association, Wildlife Preservation Society and individual co-respondents is vindication of their courage and tenacity in fighting to protect the island and taking on the considerable financial and legal burden of a court case involving a large, well-resourced mining giant. Redland City Council had declined to join the conservationists in this part of the court case. Today’s win is also a reprieve for the island’s seaside township of Dunwich.

Residents will not have to put up with increased truck movements, escalating to a truck every minute through middle of their town, which would have been the case had the sand export business been permitted.

Unimin has also been in the courts recently over the unlawful taking and selling of non-mineral sand from its Vance mine silica operations on the island. Last month Unimin lost an appeal to gain a special ruling on the definition of silica sand that would have legitimised its sale of so called “B-grade” sand.

The company will appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 7 September to face charges brought by Department of Environment and Natural Resources in relation to the sand theft. Taking and selling sand unlawfully is a serious breach of mining lease conditions, and conservationists are calling on the government to cancel the Vance mining lease ML1108 and not renew the other two Vance leases that have expired or will soon expire.

Last month Premier Anna Bligh announced that 80 per cent of NSI would be made national park and mining would be phased out by 2027. Although a commitment was made not to renew expired leases, no clear answer has been forthcoming yet on whether or not the massive Enterprise mine will be permitted to continue, even though the mine is working on a lease that expired three years ago.

Conservations are calling for future national park not to be mined, for non-renewal of all leases, including those of Enterprise, and for cancellation of the Vance leases. This would ensure that mining would finish not in another 17 years’ time but in 2013 – when Yarraman mine was due to cease operations anyway.

The last tracts of ancient dune country would be saved for the planned island national park. There will be many years of work for islanders in decommissioning the mines and rehabilitating the land while the NSI economy shifts to a new, sustainable green future.

clip_image002Stradbroke Island Management Oganisation

Contacts Jackie Cooper, president, 3409 8944

Jan Aldenhoven, vice-president, 3409 8899

More images are available on request.

Enterprise mine from the air. The pit is currently heading straight towards the giant sand stockpiles, seen in the background. 3 One of the giant stockpiles of sand Unimin had hoped to sell to the construction industry instead of using the sand to fill in the mine void at Enterprise. These mountains of sand are visible from Brisbane. Enterprise mine pit

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