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The NSW Government has backed Corazon Mining Limited, granting a reimbursement of “50 per cent of per-metre drilling costs, up to a maximum of $200,000”, as part of its New Frontiers Cooperative Drilling scheme. Corazon will drill exploration holes around Mount Gilmore (at Gordonbrook Hill 25km northwest of Grafton), where another company, Castillo Copper, resumed exploration after completing rehabilitation of sites previously disturbed on an adjoining lease (Cangai copper mine), at a cost of approximately $300,000 (excluding GST), as directed by the NSW Resources Regulator. Image courtesy: resourcesandgeoscience.nsw.gov.au

Will mining threaten the valley’s biodiversity?

With miners actively exploring within the Clarence River’s catchment – and the perceived potential negative environmental impacts should mines be established – how important are the valley’s nearby rivers and streams to Clarence Valley’s economy and industries.

Clarence Valley Council’s website asks a similar question about biodiversity, answering: “Biodiversity is … essential for our existence and significantly valuable in its own right, it provides the essential building blocks for the many goods and services that a healthy environment provides.”

And states that “changes to the aquatic environment and water flows” are identified as a primary threat; a threat CVC says needs to be “tackled head on”.

“Clarence Valley Council hopes that putting the spotlight on biodiversity will raise awareness about a range of threats and encourage our community to respond accordingly,” the website states.

“From an ecological and economic perspective it is preferable to prevent biodiversity decline, rather than ameliorate against adverse impacts after degradation has occurred.”

The council describes this ideal as being “fundamental to the practice of the precautionary principle” because “the costs of repairing degraded ecosystems are significant”.

“Therefore, preventing degradation now will reduce the costs of rehabilitation works to be borne by future generations,” CVC’s website states.

“It is common sense to ensure there is an appropriate level of investment in biodiversity across the landscape…”

So, what is CVC doing to prevent these principles from being compromised by mining in the Clarence Valley, which is now presenting a perceived threat to these values?

Not much, if a statement made by staff responding to a submission to the updated Water Efficiency Strategic Plan (WESP) adopted at the September 22 CVC meeting is considered.

Staff referred to the “various concerns regarding threats to water security” – climate change, fire, water theft and mining – as “not covered in the scope of the WESP”.

And while other CVC policies address climate change and fire, staff advised councillors that “threats to the catchment including water theft and mining are regulated by relevant state government agencies such as the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR)”.

Meanwhile, at last week’s CVC meeting councillors unanimously endorsed CVC’s submission to the NSW Government’s Inquiry into the rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW, reiterating its opposition (for the fifth time since establishing its policy in 2006) to any diversion of the Clarence River.

“Council is particularly concerned about the Mole River dam project [near Tenterfield], which we note is one of the specific projects being considered by the Inquiry, because there have previously been suggestions that the Clarence catchment be diverted into the Upper Mole River…” CVC wrote in its submission to the inquiry.

Among its list of possible negative outcomes if a diversion were to occur, CVC noted the importance of “maintaining the natural ecological cycle, including fish breeding in the estuary” and highlighted that “any diversion” would “adversely impact both the local economy … and also the natural environment”.

However, the negative effects of mining in the catchment were not mentioned in CVC’s submission, nor were they a subject of debate at the CVC meeting.

The Independent spoke with CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, about the issue.

I: Given that CVC trades on the importance of the Clarence River and the region’s biodiversity, and is writing to the government to protect the river’s ecosystem in relation to any proposal to divert the river westwards, why doesn’t CVC take a stance regarding impending mining near the river, which has the potential to damage its ecosystem?

Mr Lindsay said the issue “hasn’t been raised with me”.

The Independent suggested that mining in the river’s catchment could present a threat as ecologically and economically devastating as diverting the river and asked: Perhaps the issue could be raised if a councillor chose to lodge a Notice of Motion (NOM) at a future council meeting?

AL: “Yes that’s right; if there are concerns out there councillors need to put a NOM in.

“I’m not aware of council taking a stance on mining at the moment, but certainly it’s something that we need to consider and its impact on our local eco systems.

“I’ll have to take advice from staff as to whether we need to bring it before council in the future.”

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