CEC Summer Newsletter

In this issue…

  • Vale, Stan Mussared
  • Political spin – how they do it in politics
  • More on plastics pollution in agriculture – The world is finally catching up it seems
  • A worrying trend – that is disastrous for biodiversity
  • The two minds of Chris Gulaptis (yet again!)
  • Plans to reopen the Mt Carrington gold mine – Clarence Valley
  • The reality of the West Yamba rezoning decision is revealed

Vale, Stan Mussared

by Leonie Blain

Stan Mussared died on Thursday night after a lengthy illness.

Stan was a leading Clarence Valley environmental campaigner since the late 1970s.  He was involved in the successful National Parks Association battle to save the Washpool rainforest from logging. From 1988 Stan became a stalwart of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition and participated in major campaigns around the pulp mill proposal and the regional water supply – and beyond – as well as serving for years as the CVCC president.

He founded the ReWeavers’ Awards which honour those who have made an outstanding contribution to the environment and affirm that individuals can make a difference.  He was also a regular contributor to the CVCC’s “Voices for the Earth” column which was published in The Daily Examiner from 2006.

And this is just a brief summary of Stan’s environmental legacy.

Leonie Blain

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I echo Leonie’s words. Stan was a big-hearted man and a passionate campaigner on behalf of our natural world. Stan and Magda have also been members of the Clarence Environment Centre since its inception during the early pulp mill campaign. He will be sorely missed.

John Edwards

Political spin – how they do it in politics

This might put a smile on your face, even though a bit too close to reality.

Judy Wallman Biden, a professional genealogy researcher in South Dakota, was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that President Joe Biden’s great, great uncle, Remus Biden, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Texas in 1889. Both Judy and President Biden share this common ancestor.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows in Galveston, Texas. On the back of the picture that Judy obtained during her research is this inscription: “Remus Biden, horse thief, sent to Galveston State Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Galveston & Southern Flyer six times Caught by Texas Rangers detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.”

So, Judy e-mailed the President for information about their great, great uncle Remus, and a few days later President Biden’s staff sent this response back:

“Remus Biden was a famous cowboy in Texas in the 1880s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Galveston & Southern railroad. Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Texas Rangers. In 1889, Remus passed away suddenly during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

And THAT, folks, is how it’s done in politics!

More on plastics pollution in agriculture – The world is finally catching up it seems…

No doubt the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation feels it is made a ground-breaking discovery with the 2021 release of its “Assessment of Agricultural Plastics and their Sustainability – A Call for Action”. It’s a call that’s 30 years too late, and one that, in my opinion, is yet to be heeded, much less acted upon.

This is an issue that conservationists have been warning of for decades. The Clarence Environment Centre first complained about the blueberry industry’s transforming landscapes into a sea of plastic in 2008, and specifically noted plastic pollution in a letter to Local Land Services in June 2018.

In frustration over the Federal Government’s announcement of a war on plastic pollution (in which agricultural use of plastic received no mention at all), the Centre wrote to the Environment Minister Susan Ley in March 2021, pointing out that plastic use by a virtually unregulated intensive horticultural industry, which has exploded across the region in recent years, needed to be addressed.

We informed Ms Ley that every hectare of berry orchard contains 4 kilometres x 2m black plastic sheeting over mounded rows, with 4 km of plastic drip irrigation hose buried below. Another 4km of 2m wide plastic matting is often spread between rows to smother weeds, grass etc.

In recent years, to improve efficiency, blueberry plants are being nursery grown to virtual maturity in plastic pots. These are then planted while still in the pot at a rate of between 2 to 3 thousand pots per hectare. We understand the optimal productive life of blueberries is about 5 years. After that they are discarded, along with the pots, and another 2,500 new pots are planted.

Also of course there’s plastic water tanks and irrigation hoses, plus all nursery necessities such as seedling trays, tubes, tags etc, all of which are single use. Finally, this entire mass of plastic is covered by igloos, made of either plastic or netting, at another 10,000 square metres per hectare.

There are thousands of hectares of berry orchards in the Clarence Valley alone, do the maths!

The UN adds to this list in its report, stating: “world agriculture used 12.5 million tonnes of plastic for plant and animal production in 2019, and 37.3 million tonnes for food packaging”. Below is the UN’s detailed list of plastics used in horticulture. It seems we recognise there’s a problem, but, as usual, nothing is being done.

A worrying trend – that is disastrous for biodiversity

In early December the Clarence Environment Centre was sent a copy of a letter received by a local landowner, advising that the Australian Government was in the process of developing a Farm Forestry Strategy, along with an invitation to provide input. It seems that the landowner received the letter because he held a logging licence – otherwise known as a Private Native Forestry Property Vegetation Plan.

That brief was emailed on 8th December by Local Land Services (LLS). It contained very little information as to the intent of the new strategy, other than the narrow statement that it was being developed to help build Australia’s future wood resources, and will encompass the management of both plantations and native forests on private agricultural land.”

We were disappointed and a little surprised that the brief didn’t include alternative farm forestry avenues, such as carbon farming, which would significantly contribute to Australia’s ability to meet its net emissions reduction targets. We were also disappointed that, in relation to the management of native forests, there was no mention of biodiversity enhancement or wildlife habitat protection, both of which are in rapid decline in Australia with devastating consequences for many species now facing extinction.

The closing date for comment, 17th December, was also a concern, allowing only 7 working days to make a submission.

However, having been alerted to the planned strategy, we checked the federal government’s website, and found that both the above issues were being considered by the strategy, with the statement that: “If you are a farmer, forest grower, timber processor, investor, or belong to a natural resource management body, we want to hear from you.

As a significant provider of on-ground natural resource services, the CEC was again disappointed not to have received the brief directly from LLS. That the letter only to landowners with logging permits failed to mention these alternatives, indicates to us that the LLS is a little cannon-shy, and afraid to mention anything like natural resource management, perhaps for fear of being branded as greenies, and losing respect from the rednecks.

There is much to consider when planning the future of farm forestry. It requires a complete review of the Plantations and Reafforestation Act for a start, followed by an overhaul of the Private Native Forestry Code of Practice, as both have proven to be disastrous for biodiversity.

We made these points very strongly in our submission.

The two minds of Chris Gulaptis (yet again!)

Remember back to the time when the former National’s member for Clarence, Steve Candsdell, blotted his copy-book by signing a false affidavit, claiming he wasn’t the driver of a speeding vehicle that he just happened to own? Well, it seems Steve’s distaste for speed limits at the time was quite intense, and was apparently closely involved in a petition to raise the speed limit on Iluka Road from 80 to 100kph.

It should be noted that the 80km speed limit had been imposed in the first place because of the high number of Koala and Coastal Emu road-kills that were reported near the World Heritage area and Bundjalung National Park. Both species were identified as being perilously close to extinction on the peninsular, so a speed limit was a logical response.

Steve did the right thing and resigned after being found out, but that petition then helped his successor, Chris Gulaptis, to show how in-tune he was with the needs of his constituents, by having the speed limit on Iluka Road lifted. As Mayor of the former Maclean Shire Council, Chris had had a long history of anti-native animal sentiment, having conducted a decade long vendetta against threatened Flying Foxes at Maclean.

Of course, to accompany the announcement of faster cars roaring along Iluka Road, Chris would have insisted on the usual photo opportunity, which was published in the local newspaper. It shows Chris in usual relaxed pose leaning on the National Parks sign. But are those the petition’s signatories lined up behind him? They certainly don’t look like people who would want, or even be allowed, to drive faster vehicles, and perhaps look more like a group brought in from the golf club just down the road.

In a stunning turn-around last month, Chris was again the centre of attention on Brooms Head Road, proudly announcing a reduction in the speed limit to protect the now all but extinct Coastal Emu. This happened after a strong campaign by Barbara Linley and the Lions Club Clarence Environmental. This was a great outcome, and our sincere congratulations to Barbara and her team.

However, we have to say that while supposedly listening to the public’s wishes on these occasions, Chris was a lot less supportive of the close to 11,000 local residents who signed a petition asking the state government to declare the Clarence River catchment off-limits to mining.

That petition, was tabled and debated in State Parliament late last year by the Member for Lismore, Janelle Saffin. But did Chris support it? Absolutely not! In fact he was the lead speaker against it.

Was his apparent falling out of step with public sentiment prompted by a desire to support a low-emissions future, as he claimed? If it was, then he is way out of line with the Nationals’ policy of maintaining and supporting the fossil fuels sector and opening more coal-fired power stations. Perhaps it has something to do with his past close association with the mining industry, and, in retirement, is looking to join other National Party members on the boards of a multi-national mining companies.

Plans to reopen the Mt Carrington gold mine – Clarence Valley

Rumours of the possible restarting of mining operations at the mothballed Mt Carrington gold mine near Drake, prompted us to investigate further, and we discovered the new owners, White Rock Minerals, are already well advanced with their plans.

In fact, having acquired the lease over a decade ago, White Rock has been actively planning the reopening for a while, and have already completed drilling at the site. We don’t know exactly what they are looking for, seeing as they are supposedly only going to be three historical open cut pits which we would have assumed to have been subject to extensive exploration in the past.

A colourful Google Earth image of the Mt Carrington mine site, the old diggings resembling a moonscape. The uninviting green pond is the current tailings dam, while the equally unappealing blue pool is the now abandoned, water-filled Lady Hampden silver mine.

Out of the blue last October, the Clarence Catchment Alliance, Clarence Valley Council, and all councillors, received invitations from White Rock’s development consultants, EMM, to engage in community consultation. This came as something of a surprise, as two other mining exploration companies, Castillo Copper, and Corazon Mining, had steadfastly ignored our requests for consultation in the past, despite the mining regulator advising them that consultation was a condition of their licence. More on that later.

Details of White Rock’s plans are sketchy and contradictory, and as usual, the company’s structure appears designed to confuse. All signage at their Mt Carrington site directs visitors to “White Rock Minerals” but, according to the project fact sheet provided to us by EMM, White Rock is merely the owner of the exploration and mining licences.

The company actually undertaking the exploration and mining is Thomson Resources, a mining exploration and development company. The fact sheet tells us they plan to expand existing ‘pits’, and construct an on-site gold processing plant. It also describes 2 other key components of the plan, first to “construct a larger tailings storage facility”, which would encompass the existing dam; and secondly “establish a new waste rock emplacement, to encapsulate any potentially acidic waste rock extracted”.

The white area at the centre of the right-hand image is the current tailings dam. The surrounding grey shading shows the planned extension, all contained by a heightened and extended dam wall shown in pink. The large pale pink shaded area is where they propose to store their waste rock.

Before going into details of these key components, their fact sheet also explains the benefits of the mine reopening, particularly the first which states: “The project will provide an opportunity to address legacy issues from historical mining activities, including acid mine drainage and improved site rehabilitation outcomes”, and the second being, of course, “Economic benefits and employment”! 

The “legacy issues”, relate to the long history of pollution problems that has plagued the site, mainly associated with a process called “acid mine drainage”, sometimes referred to as acid rock drainage, and something the fact sheet acknowledges as being a problem.

Acid Mine Drainage

The Southern Cross University undertook testing of a Bauxsol-based Permeable Reactive Barrier for the Treatment of Acid Rock Drainage at the Mt Carrington tailings dam in about 2000, and published the findings (Leon D. Munro, Malcolm W. Clark, and David McConchie).

Diagram of the Bauxsol test set-up used by the University team

The report from that exercise explains that: “Acid rock drainage (ARD) results from the oxidization of pyrite (FeS2) and other sulphide minerals in the presence of water to form ferric oxy-hydroxides and sulphuric acid (Appelo and Postma 1994; Evangelou 1995). ARD is common wherever waste rock, ore and/or mine tailings are stored and affects most Cu, Pb, Zn, Ni, Mo, As, Au, Ag, and coal beneficiation operations. ARD composition is directly linked to host rock geology and water chemistry, which combine to dictate toxicity. The combination of low pH and a potentially complex suite of metals can also promote synergistic toxic effects (Kelly 1999).

The following report from the United States explains the seriousness of the acid rock drainage problem:

Construction Materials and Structures S.O. Ekolu et al. (Eds.) IOS Press, 2014 © 2014 The authors and IOS Press. All rights reserved. doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-466-4-1416

“The formation of acid mine drainage (AMD) and the contaminants associated with it have been described as the largest environmental problem facing the mining industry. Contaminated water flowing from abandoned mines is one of the most significant contributors to water pollution. AMD can have severe impacts on aquatic resources, can stunt terrestrial plant growth and harm wetlands, contaminate groundwater, raise water treatment costs, and damage concrete and metal structures”,

Given the seriousness of acid rock drainage, it is my guess that White Rock has been ordered to clean up that problem before it can reopen the mine, hence their plans for enlarging the tailings dam and creating a new waste rock emplacement. The Southern Cross University work may also be part of that order, with White Rock possibly acquiring the responsibility along with the mine.

Small-scale mining in the Drake area commenced around 1886, with the discovery of gold and other mineral deposits in the area, but large-scale commercial mining only began in 1976. That only lasted 2 years before shutting down, only to reopen a decade later for a further 2 years, from 1988 to 1990.

According to the Southern Cross University report, it was during that last mining period that extensions to the tailings dam wall were started, but never finished. “This resulted in a large quantity of waste and low-grade ore rock being dumped on the lower side of the dam wall as containment material. This exposed rock, rich in sulphide minerals (pyrite, chalcopyrite, chalcocite and sphalerite) is the main source of ARD at the mine (Lin et al. 2002)”.

The University team reported that: “Various sediment and water surveys of the site have indicated high levels of TCLP” (Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure) leachable Cd (up to 18.32 mg/kg), Cu (up to 263.9 mg/kg), Pb (up to 11.42 mg/kg) and Zn (up to 162.84 mg/kg) and similarly poor water throughout the site with high concentrations of dissolved metals, which concentrate during the dry season (Cd – up to 1.7 mg/L; Cu – up to >200 mg/L; Pb – up to 0.12 mg/L; Zn – up to 175 mg/L) (Clark et al 2001; Collins 1994; Maddocks 2000)”.  Note: Cd = Cadmium; Cu = Copper; Pb = Lead; Zn – Zinc

The current tailings dam, an uninviting green on satellite images, is huge (see above left), some 400m across and covering some 12 hectares (see White Rock’s ground-level image, above right). The dam wall is built across a creek which makes it almost impossible to prevent overflowing, thanks to inflows during heavy rain events.

Right now, if you believe the White Rock fact sheet, they have yet to determine what processing method they will employ, but if they chose the commonly used cyanide method, that will certainly attract an extra layer of scrutiny from the EPA.

The planned massive extension of the dam wall will triple the surface area to about 40 hectares (see yellow shaded area below left). Clearly, they feel that enlarging the dam size will enable them to divert inflows around the dam and thus reduce the threat of overflowing during heavy rain events.

Then, south of the dam is the proposed acid rock dumping ground (see yellow shading top right), another 40 hectares. This poses a problem for White Rock, as all 70 hectares is currently forested. Not only that, but it’s all core koala habitat, complete with resident koalas.

Back now to the offer of consultation, which the CCA had accepted and were waiting on a confirmation of the date. However, when after a month they had heard nothing, they contacted White Rocks’ consultants, to find out what was happening. Disappointingly, they received the following response:

“Please be advised that the anticipated timeframes for the proposed Mt Carrington Gold Project have been revised. The project design and feasibility studies, which have been underway since mid-2021, have identified additional information is needed about the characteristics of the ore, to refine the processing plant design.

Please see the attached project update, which provides more information about the revised project time frames. We will provide advice when consultation is ready to recommence.

The claim they would be starting to compile an Environmental Impact Assessment in January 2022 (see insert below), is wildly contradictory when compared with an announcement made by White Rock to the Stock Exchange (ASX) a month earlier which claimed: Environmental Impact Statement well advanced”, which begs the question, are they lying to us, or have they misled the ASX, shareholders, and potential investors? We suspect it’s the former, but what triggered the cancellation of consultation? After all, it’s still a mandatory requirement of their licence, regardless of what stage they are at, and should have been happening years ago.  

White Rock and Thomson have a number of active operations in Australia and overseas including, by the latter, a proposed venture near Texas in southern Queensland where, according to one announcement to the ASX, there is mention of the “supportive community”.

Clearly, that community support is important, and is mentioned to impress shareholders and potential investors, and could possibly result in a lift in their share price. However, we have been unable to find any reference to community support, or otherwise, relating to the Mt Carrington mine. For example, no mention of the 11,000-signature petition that was tabled and debated in State Parliament, calling for a stop to all minerals’ exploration and mining in the Clarence River Catchment. There is no mention that Clarence Valley Council had likewise asked the government to place an embargo on mining in the valley, a stand supported in writing by 5 neighbouring councils. No mention either that the Federal Minister for Page, the National’s Kevin Hogan, has supported that call, or that the state member for Lismore, Janelle Saffin, had made the following comment in a speech to Parliament in late 2021, stating: “In Drake, which is in my electorate, local fishermen remember as if it were yesterday the arsenic leaking from the Mount Carrington mine at Drake in the 1970s and the mutated seafood. The Mount Carrington goldmine project is back on the books. I have said I shall fight it with every breath, and I shall.”.

Clearly, White Rock has no social licence, and is likely refusing to consult with the public for fear of highlighting that fact. Whatever, the reason, we believe they should be required to make these facts clear to the ASX and investors under full disclosure rules, so we have written to the Stock Exchange asking that they investigate all of these matters.

We will keep you informed.

The reality of the West Yamba rezoning decision is revealed

Fifteen years ago, as Honorary Secretary of the Clarence Environment Centre, I sat as a community representative on Council’s Floodplain Risk Management Advisory Committee, when the future of West Yamba was being determined.

Most of West Yamba lies between zero and 2m above sea level, and it was clear at the time that Council’s representatives, led at the time by the Deputy General Manager (Civil and Corporate), Rob Donges, were the only members of that committee that thought turning West Yamba into an urban growth area, was a good idea.

In fact, a 2007 Sydney Morning Herald article, “Coming to this swamp – suburbia”, describes Mr Donges as the “architect” of the west Yamba development.

In 2009, the Yamba Floodplain Risk Management Plan (YFRMP) was released, noting that: “The use of flood modification measures (levees, etc.) to facilitate future development is generally not acceptable: Any further development will exacerbate the flood hazardand: The proposal is not compatible with two background reports. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The instant you drive into Carrs Drive, this is the assault on the senses that greets visitors (photo courtesy Greg Clancy)

History shows that the final outcome was the approved rezoning of West Yamba to allow for the construction of around 1,100 homes, justification for which was based solely on the fact that the landholders, including major developers, had been given an understanding, by the former Maclean Shire Council, that they would be allowed to develop the area.

The first of the major urban developments has now begun, and what has occurred shocked many in the community into understanding the reality. Just a hundred metres down Carrs Drive, and visitors encounter a concrete monstrosity, which is the retaining wall holding back the three-metre-deep fill.

The Risk Management Plan places the amount of fill into context, claiming: the required 1.3 million cubic metres of soil will result in one truck movement every 6 minutes, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for nine and a half years

The sea level rise that is predicted to occur over the next 80 years to 2100, is the reason. Even now, large areas of West Yamba experience flooding at king tides, with the entire area predicted to be covered by high tide in 80 years’ time.

This is West Yamba. The dark blue shaded areas are those currently inundated by high tides. The light blue shading shows those additional areas that are predicted to be inundated at high tide in 2100.

This is West Yamba. The dark blue shaded areas are those currently inundated by high tides. The light blue shading shows those additional areas that are predicted to be inundated at high tide in 2100.

Because this scenario has been recognised, the Risk Management Plan adds the assurance that the 1100 home suburb of West Yamba has, “an assumed life span of 90+ years”. What an extraordinary statement, effectively declaring the suburb has a use-by-date! Mind you, with the layout of this latest 310 home estate on Miles Street, I think the community will be glad to see the end of it.

The above site plan shows the bland lay-out of the latest Miles Street development, and not a great deal of imagination given to the design. In all, 310 ‘pocket handkerchief’ sized blocks averaging about 480sq/m. The two large elongated blocks are “water detention basins”, i.e., a drain, joining the two low points on the property, to allow free flow of flood and tidal water, with Council to be the lucky owner, and rate-payers footing the cost of maintenance.

The CEC has written a detailed submission with following being some of the main objections

  • The proposed development, including all West Yamba, will remove the final vestiges of Yamba’s “coastal village” identity, which has made the town a tourist Mecca.
  • The rezoning was inconsistent with the Mid North Coast Regional Strategy’s Suggested Threshold Sustainability Criteria, i.e., “No residential development within 1:100 floodplain”.
  • Council has indicated that it is preparing a Detailed Drainage Assessment of Carrs Drive and Sullivans Road by March 2022. Clearly, this is an assessment that should have been undertaken before the rezoning was approved over a decade ago. No development applications should be considered until this report is completed.
  • The handing over of restricted floodways, particularly the artificially constructed ones, to Council, will place a significant on-going financial burden on rate-payers, for maintenance, weed control, mosquito control etc.
  • There has been no assessment of the cumulative environmental impacts of importing the fill material to west Yamba. e.g., the loss of native vegetation at the quarry, air and noise pollution from heavy transport vehicles and earth-moving materials. Greenhouse gas emissions from heavy machinery at both ends of the fill transfer exercise, combined with the transport, will be enormous.
  • There has been no fauna survey of the site, merely the making of a magnanimous gesture accepting certain threatened species are “likely to occur”, then doing nothing.
  • We believe the proponent has greatly understated the importance of the occurrence of the endangered, Rotala tripartita. The consultant reports occurrences of the species at Black Swamp (Shannon Creek area), Shannondale, and Pillar Valley. However, recent follow-up checks of all 3 populations (by the ecologist responsible for identifying all 3) has failed to find any sign of those plants. This suggests that the Yamba population may be the current southern limit for the species, and should be managed accordingly.
  • We believe the consultant’s claim that West Yamba soils are not alluvial, concluding that remnant vegetation on the property is not one or more threatened ecological communities, is wrong, and that those four threatened ecological communities should be assessed as such!
  • There are a number of recommendations in the YFRMP that we need to know have been undertaken, Firstly, the recommendation (Table i) to: “Undertake a West Yamba levee feasibility study. It would be prudent to initiate this study following resolution of the West Yamba development and bypass proposals as these will have a significant influence on the levee alignment.” As we understand it, there has been no resolution of the Bypass, or completion of a Levee Feasibility Study. Why are development applications being considered, much less approved, before these matters have been resolved? This goes for the other 6 recommendations in Table i.
  • In Table ii of the YFRMP there is a list of “Key Issues: that presumably need to be addressed prior to any development being approved. These include: a) Further detailed hydraulic modelling required to assess effects of fill and viability of a floodway between Golding and Freeburn Streets”. Has this been done? b) “A practical method of evacuation approved by the SES during the planning process needs to be in place prior to development consent”. Reading the proponent’s Statement of Environmental Effects, we are told: “A copy of the subdivision has been forwarded to Clarence Valley SES and their response is awaited”.       c) “The proposed Master Plan must address water related cumulative issues”. This plan, we are informed, has yet to be developed. Again, if this is true, why are developments being approved?
  • Table ii of the YFRMP also mentions other key issues relating to future development that should be considered by Council. Specifically, they are: a) The use of flood modification measures (levees, etc.) to facilitate future development is generally not acceptable”, b) Any further development will exacerbate the flood hazard”, and c) The proposal is not compatible with two background reports”. Were these adequately assessed by Council prior to the rezoning?” Apparently not all, as Council is even now preparing a Detailed Drainage Assessment of Carrs Drive and Sullivans Road.
  • Finally, why has the proponent in this instance been granted Council approval to stockpile fill on the property without development approval?