China’s Sinosteel Midwest has flagged plans to return to mining at its mothballed Blue Hills iron ore operation, challenging a ruling by the environmental watchdog last year that forced its closure.
The mine, located 65km northeast of Perenjori, was shut down last year amid tumbling iron ore prices and the rejection of a proposed extension by the Environmental Protection Agency, resulting in the loss of more than 100 jobs.
The rejected proposal, which included a new pit, large waste dump, processing plant, haul roads and access roads, was to be located on the Mungada Ridge directly east of the existing mining area.
However, the EPA rejected the proposal on the grounds that if implemented, the expansion would have a serious and irreversible impact on the integrity of the ridge.
The concerns of the EPA were compounded by the fact that Mungada Ridge is the last large, substantively intact landform remaining in the Blue Hills area that hasn’t been significantly affected by mining.
It was also deemed to possess the most significant landscape and biodiversity values in the Blue Hills area.
In response, SMC has filed a new submission in which they suggest there are inconsistencies in the way the EPA assessed their proposal compared with other projects.
However, they have also tried to mitigate their footprint on the environmentally sensitive area by relocating the proposed waste rock dump off the ridge.
SMC executive general manager Stuart Griffiths said while the process of securing the approvals was expected to drag out for some months, if successful they were optimistic about its potential benefits to the Mid West.
“We’re very confident in the extensive nature of our proposal and the supporting scientific research and evidence,” he said.
“We’ve been a big supporter of the Mid West … and are looking forward to giving local contractors opportunities and employing local people.”
The operation drew headlines in 2008 after Sinosteel became the first Chinese-owned company to complete a successful hostile takeover in Australia, when it purchased 51 per cent of Midwest Corp’s shares for $1.36 billion.
The Public Environmental review is available on Sinosteel’s website and the EPA will accept public comment on the proposed works until September 27.