A new desalination plant, iron ore mine and outer harbour development are among recent proposals considered by the Environmental Protection Authority.
With comprehensive conditions recommended to steer each project, the EPA has ensured its environmental objectives could be met.
EPA Chairman Paul Vogel said assessing the Cape Riche Desalination Plant in Albany, the Cloudbreak Iron Ore Mine north of Newman, and Port Hedland’s new outer harbour development had proven complex.
However the raft of rigorous conditions recommended for each of the proposals allowed for impacts on vegetation, fauna, surface water and groundwater quality to be mitigated.
Following a two week public appeal period for each proposal, the decisions now rest with the Minister for Environment.
Cape Riche Desalination Plant: EPA Report 1431
Grange Resources Limited’s proposal to construct and operate the Cape Riche Desalination Plant will supply 12 gigalitres of water per year (GL/y) to Grange’s Southdown Magnetite Project - an open pit magnetite mine about 90 km east-north-east of Albany.
The desalination plant will be located about 5 km west of Cape Riche, with the seawater intake and pump station 500 metres east of Cheyne Inlet. A brine outfall will be located on the south side of Cape Riche.
“This proposal has the potential to impact marine fauna and habitats, marine water quality and terrestrial flora and fauna through activities including blasting to construct the intake channel and clearing of vegetation for the pipeline construction,” Dr Vogel said.
“The conditions the EPA has recommended include measures to maintain marine water quality and minimise impacts to marine habitats and fauna.”
Given the pristine local environment, Dr Vogel said other conditions will manage fauna entrapment as a result of trenching as well as prevent the spread or introduction of dieback and weed species.
“The EPA visited Cape Riche last year and understands the area is highly valued by the community for its indigenous heritage, environmental values and recreational use,” he said.
“This proposal is unlikely to significantly impact the social surrounds however conditions will require that exclusion zones ensure walking corridors along Cape Riche are not completely blocked off at any time during construction.
"The proponent has also committed to minimising any impact, including establishing a 24 hour complaints line.”
Cloudbreak Iron Ore Mine: EPA Report 1429
Fortescue Metals Group’s proposal to expand their Cloudbreak Iron Ore Mine aimed to increase the existing open pit strip mining footprint by 8,133 hectares and allow ore production to increase to up to 50 million tonnes per annum.
The project, which is about 120 km north of Newman, also included the development of new pits and waste dumps, the development of new infrastructure and dewatering and water disposal activities over the life of the mine, as well as an upgrade of the ore processing facility.
“In assessing this large and complex project, the EPA developed a rigorous set of conditions to ensure our environmental objectives to protect vegetation, fauna, surface water flows and groundwater quality could be met,” Dr Vogel said.
Dr Vogel said several ecologically important vegetation communities in the area, including the Samphire vegetation associated with the Fortescue Marsh, would be impacted. “While the percentage impacts to the Mulga and Samphire vegetation are relatively small, these areas are important due to their good condition, for the habitat they provide for fauna and because part of the proposal falls within a proposed conservation reserve. For that reason the EPA has recommended offsets are appropriate,” Dr Vogel said.
He said the potential cumulative residual impacts should be offset by the proponent contributing to a regional conservation initiative for the Pilbara, which will provide broader benefits to protect fauna species, including the Night Parrot and the Greater Bilby.
Restrictions have also been placed on groundwater mounding and drawdown at the fringe and within the Marsh to one metre, which is less than the natural fluctuations that occur in the Marsh.
The EPA recommended that progressive rehabilitation and successful surface water management practices are also implemented to ensure that the predicted impacts to surface water are not exceeded and the environmentally significant Fortescue Marsh remains protected.
Port Hedland’s New Outer Harbour Development: EPA Report 1427
The EPA recommended BHP Billiton Iron Ore’s outer harbour development, which includes rail and ore stockpile facilities as well as a four kilometre jetty offshore of Finucane Island, could be implemented with rigorous conditions to limit environmental impacts.
The proposal, which will take about eight years to construct over four stages, will allow approximately 240 million tonnes of iron ore to be exported each year.
Dr Vogel said a comprehensive set of environmental conditions, including measures to limit the impact on marine habitats, had been recommended.
The proposal also includes a large marine dredging campaign, which is expected to take about four years to complete and involves the dredging and disposal of about 42 million cubic metres of sediment.
“The EPA has found that the dredging campaign could be managed in a way that is unlikely to compromise the ecological functioning of the marine environment locally and regionally,” Dr Vogel said.
He said it should also be noted that the offshore spoil grounds were not included in the EPA’s area for assessment as it is located in Commonwealth waters and will need to conform to Commonwealth legislation and standards for sea dumping of dredged material. An offsets package over five projects has also been recommended.
“Of the five projects, three are focused on marine fauna, namely supporting research on sawfish, whales, dolphins, dugongs and turtles,” Dr Vogel said.
The EPA also recommends that the ongoing regulation of dust and noise emissions can be most effectively managed under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and in accordance with the Port Hedland Air Quality and Noise Management Plan.