Mayor, councillors reject request to support CQ mine
The mayor and two councillors at Rockhampton Regional Council have formally rejected providing support for Clive Palmer’s proposed coal project - a day before its final environmental approval deadline.
The Central Queensland Coal Project is a proposed metallurgical coal development located on the Bruce Hwy, near St Lawrence, between Rockhampton and Mackay.
The company plans to commence construction in July 2022 and would employ up to 250 people.
It is currently awaiting State Government and Commonwealth approval before construction and operations can begin.
The project has been subject to concerns from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.
The IESC believes the project could release pollutants into rivers and creeks which run into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, drain creeks and threaten vulnerable animals like koalas and greater gliders.
The Department of Environment and Science has until Friday, February 26 to provide its final approval decision.
Central Queensland Coal wrote to Rockhampton Mayor Tony Williams on February 18, asking for support of the project.
The company also wrote to Livingstone Shire Council.
A Special Meeting was held on Tuesday February 23 at Livingstone Shire Council to discuss the letter. It was moved that LSC would provide a letter “supporting the development of the Central Queensland Coal Project near Ogmore on the understanding that the environmental matters raised by the IESC will be resolved”.
All councillors agreed to the letter, except for Councillor Nigel Hutton.
“The project is now at the cusp of seeking both State and Commonwealth approvals and requests a letter of support from your council to be addressed to the State Environmental Minister Hon. Megan Scanlon to approve the project,” the letter addressed to Cr Williams stated.
The letter goes on to state the many merits of the project including net benefits to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Broadsound Fish Habitat through a reduction in sediment, long-term direct employment, state royalties of $766m and Commonwealth taxes of $1.087b.
A CQC project fact sheet submitted with the council report goes into lengthy detail about the ‘substantial work’ which has been carried out since the IESC findings.
It details how CQC has investigated water and downstream issues, which would have minor or no impacts, and how all water for the project would be sourced from on-site capture.
It also details mining had previously been conducted in the area and there were no environmental legacy issues.
CQC has undertaken an independent peer review which found the groundwater assessment and modelling work “has been carried out in a professional and rigorous manner that meets current industry standards” under the IESC and there were no “fundamental flaws in the work”.
The letter was discussed at a Rockhampton Regional Council Special Council Meeting held on Thursday morning.
The matter divided the council table with Cr Williams opening the discussion and originally speaking in support of the project.
He said the environment was important and it was just as important to make sure environmental conditions were followed through and adhered to.
“I am sure that is the case subject to approval,” he said.
He said he was looking to support Livingstone Shire Council’s position and maintain council’s support of the resource sector.
“I believe the officer’s recommendation to support the letter to the minister in support of the project and I would like to move that way and head into formal debate,” he said.
He said it was an important project, particularly for job creation.
“From the information we have been provided, I have confidence the environmental standards will be upheld, subject to the approval being granted,” he said.
Councillor Donna Kirkland was the first to speak against the move and said she had reservations about the IESC findings and there needed to be more information.
“We are reef guardians and it is important for me to bring it up today,” she said.
Councillor Neil Fisher defended the project and cited many other Queensland mines which started out with negative feedback and now have won awards.
He congratulated the report and said it was very detailed.
“I think we should be supporting the project knowing the State Government will do their job and put out achievable proponents of what the mine should do before they get the green light,” he said.
Councillor Cherie Rutherford raised several questions and said they should have been consulted earlier, not this close to the deadline approval, which was the day after the meeting was held.
“You wouldn’t give references to someone you don’t know and this is what we are doing here,” she said to the table.
“While it is not our role to step into that area, we are being asked to give our support to questions we don’t have answers to.”
Councillor Ellen Smith said she was confident the environmental issues would be sorted by the appropriate departments and the number of jobs for the region was crucial.
“I think it’s really important for our region going forward,” she said.
“It is close to Rockhampton, it’s something we badly need to support.”
Crs Williams, Rutherford and Kirkland voted against providing support while Crs Shane Latcham, Fisher and Smith voted for.
Despite originally voicing his support, Cr Williams used his casting vote to sway the motion and the vote was lost, meaning the entire council would not be formally providing a letter of support.
Councillor Drew Wickerson was absent from the special meeting.
The council report states if the project is approved, council would aim to maximise opportunities for local/new residents and local businesses, which would lead to increased rates revenue.
It is understood Livingstone Shire Council has provided a letter of support for the project, however Isaac Regional Council’s position is unclear. IRC has been approached for comment.
Senator Malcolm Roberts has provided a letter of support for the project.
Mirani MP Stephen Andrew provided a “full letter of support” on February 2, citing CQ Coal had invested considerable resources over several years toward developing the project and had demonstrated a net environmental impact plan over the life of the mine.
He detailed how the environmental issues had been addressed and had little impact.
“Given the current states of government debt, the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent regional industry regional development, I ask that you provide appropriate resources to investigate and assess this project impartially, and to consider where the IESC have given adequate or in some cases no regard to the documentation provided by CQ Coal.” Mr Andrew wrote.
The project is a joint venture between Central Queensland Coal Pty Ltd (99 per cent) and Fairway Coal Pty Ltd (one per cent), which are subsidiaries of Waratah Coal, a fully-owned subsidiary of Mineralogy Pty Ltd, owned by Clive Palmer.
The St Lawrence site would be an open cut operation and would have a rail connection to the Queensland Rail North Coast Line.
Once operational, which was forecast to be in December 2022, it will initially produce 1.5 million tonnes per annum of semi-soft coking coal and employ about 167 people.
It is estimated by 2024, the project will move into steady operations and will produce 3.2 million tonnes per annum and employ about 250 people.
The workforce would be from The Caves and St Lawrence.
The life of the mining phase of the project is estimated to be 18 years and will be followed by two years of rehabilitation.
In a statement on Thursday February 25, the Department of Environment and Science (DES) said the Central Queensland Coal Project submitted a revised Environmental Impact Statement in late 2020 and it is currently being assessed by DES.
“DES is considering the advice received from relevant agencies and the IESC in its decision about whether the EIS can proceed to the assessment report stage of the EIS process,” the DES spokesperson said.
“This decision, due by tomorrow, is only concerning if the EIS can progress to the report stage, this is not a decision being made to approve the project.
“Rockhampton Regional Council is not one of the relevant agencies providing DES with advice to inform our decision.”