Land battle a minefield

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Mid West farmers are among landholders angry about plans by mining giant Karara to take a 1km-wide tenement through their properties to build a conveyor from Narngulu to Oakajee.

Their objections to the proposal were lodged in the Warden's Court Geraldton last October and are due for a second mention hearing on May 30.

The landholders have raised several concerns about the 42km-long miscellaneous licence application, fearing the proposed development will devalue their land, make it harder to use because it cuts paddocks in half and in some cases is proposed to go through infrastructure, including one farmers' home.

They are furious at Karara which first informed them of the tenement and issued notices on affected landholders after an application was lodged with the Department of Mines and Petroleum in September last year.

Twenty-one of the property holders refused the miner access to their land, upset by a lack of consultation, and took the matter to the Warden's Court in Geraldton.

For its part, Karara says for commercial reasons the first part of the process was to lodge its tenement application which runs through 34 properties and public landholdings in the Shire of Chapman Valley and the City of Geraldton Greenough.

A spokesman for Karara Mining said a subsidiary, Karara Infrastructure, lodged the application. The company had started the next stage which was full consultation with landowners.

He declined to say whether it would re-route its proposed tenement so infrastructure, like stables, sheds and houses, was not impacted.

At a mention hearing on February 22 the warden ordered Karara to provide more information to affected landholders about its proposal.

Moonyanooka resident Tracey Kilpatrick is leading a group of residents from Narngulu, Moonyanooka and Chapman Valley in the campaign against Karara's proposal.

She said the group's concerns were about a lack of engagement on Karara's part as well as the threat the corridor posed to their livelihoods.

"Initially people were disgusted about the way Karara went about their application," she said. "To this day they haven't made a real effort to consult landholders.

"If the licence is granted, it has a life of 21 years and is it our understanding that it will devalue the land.

"It (the proposed tenement) goes through people's houses, sheds and fences and we still don't really know the full impact."

Ms Kilpatrick said many of Karara's notices to landholders were lost because the miner pegged them to fences and gates.

This was after initial notices were mailed to the postal addresses of affected landholders. Some were left at the post office for up to a fortnight.

Gindalbie Metals corporate affairs and industrial relations manager Michael Weir said it was standard practice to inform landholders after a tenement application was lodged.

"To date for the Karara Project we have built a 150km water pipeline, 80km rail spur and 180km power line and done so with full consultation and agreement with the local landholders," he said.

"This proposal will be no different. For commercial reasons the first part of the process is the tenement application."

Karara's rail spur runs from its mine site, 225km east of Geraldton, to Morawa. Its water pipeline stretches from Karara to Mingenew and the power line links the mine site to Three Springs.

Mr Weir said Karara issuing notices on landholders' fences and gates complied with legal process.

"We were ordered by the warden to reissue the documents because some residents complained that they had not received copies the first time," he said. "Under the process for issuing legal documents, when the occupant is not home, we are able to attach a document to a piece of property."

The conveyor route runs along a similar path to the Department of Planning's proposed Oakajee Narngulu Infrastructure Corridor (ONIC) but is about 750m wider.

Objectors to the tenement application expressed concern about the width of the corridor and have asked Karara to make it narrower.

Karara could not account for why its tenement was significantly wider than the affected area itself or for the activities that would occur in the 'buffer zone'.

Mr Weir said he envisaged the width of the corridor would be reduced over time.

Karara's proposed conveyor to the Oakajee Port is intended to transport ore which will first be railed to Narngulu, on the outskirts of Geraldton, from its magnetite mine, 225km south-east of Geraldton.

Industry sources have said Karara's proposal is linked to the miner's frustration with ongoing delays to the Oakajee Port and Rail project.

The Department of Planning is among the objectors to Karara's application, along with the Shire of Chapman Valley, Oakajee Port and Rail and other business proponents.

A Department of State Development spokesman said Karara's application would not put pressure on the State Government's Oakajee Port project negotiations.

The spokesman also said the Government would not provide Karara with legislative backing to compulsorily acquire the land.

Compulsory acquisition is a card Karara has dealt before.

Farmers in the Three Springs area were threatened with notices when Karara wanted to build its power line, though deals were struck before the notices took effect.

Under section 29 of the Mining Act 1978, Karara needs landholders' written consent for the tenement to be granted.

Karara Mining is a joint venture between Gindalbie Metals and Chinese steelmaker Ansteel.

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