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Broome locals warn of mine transport plan's social and environmental risk

Giovanni Torre -

Broome locals have sounded the alarm over a mine and associated trucking which has also raised the ire of Traditional Owners.

No More Trucks spokesperson Brendan Renkin said one of the group's primary concerns was that plans to ship materials from the Kimberley Mineral Sands Thunderbird mine out of Broome were "sprung on the community as a surprise".

"The mine had been in the works for years, but it was always going to use Derby as its principal port, and there was a fair amount of community acceptance," he told National Indigenous Times.

"It was not until early 2022 when the mine owner entered into an agreement with the Yansteel they decided that they would ship everything out of Broome.

"They already had the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) approval, so it was just an amendment to that without further assessment. The assessment itself is a complicated process and went for six or seven years, but this change happened at the end and didn't really have any public consultation at all. There was no awareness in Broome that the change was so significant."

Mr Renkin said it had subsequently come to light that the Shire of Broome "wrote strongly in support" of the change.

"There are suspicions about exactly what has been proposed because it was all done without community consultation. What has been proposed is 99 trucks moving per day… these trucks will come and go every day for 35 years," he said.

"Gubinge is the main road that splits town in two, and to get from the Bay side to the Cable side at some point you have to cross that road.

"99 is the upper limit, however, that's just the trucks coming into town to drop containers in the yard. There'll be another 160 going from the yard to the jetty back and forth whenever they're shipping out."

Mr Renkin said No More Trucks was also concerned about the nature of the material from the mine.

"It is radioactive material. The company emphasises that it is low level, but it is still radioactive. There's no limit on how much of it can be stored at the port, and the area where it's stored is in a low lying area that floods every wet season," he said.

"There is also the issue of spillage. The loading is happening at Roebuck Bay, which is a marine park. It is a highly sensitive marine environment. There are whales, dolphins, turtles and a lot of fish and the percentage of people in this town who fish recreationally is pretty high."

He said the influx of mine workers and truck drivers would put upward pressure on Broome's already high rents.

"We have a chronic housing shortage already and the highest rent in Western Australia. There is 10-year waitlist for tenure waitlist for public housing," he said.

"Highly-paid mine workers and truck drivers will push up the price of housing and also squeeze out workers from other industries, especially local businesses. We have a lot of things closing down in Broome because businesses can't afford to pay wages that meet the cost of living.

"Another social issue is access to GPs and childcare. There are massive waitlists for both of those already. There does not seem to have been any planning at all for the impact of the mine and shipping through Broome."

Mr Renkin warned that the trucking plan for Thunderbird could herald an acceleration in the industrialisation of the area.

"The Western Australian government gave $50 million to the port for expansion to prepare for gas and chemical treatment. I recently met up with friends of mine from Port Hedland who said 'Whatever you do fight it, we grew up in Port Hedland and it was a beautiful seaside town, we didn't realise what we were losing until it was too late'.

"Now what makes Broome unique is the culture and soul of the place, and maybe one mine and one set of trucks won't destroy that but it's the beginning of the loss.

"There is also the issue that this mine has been publicly funded through National Australian Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) - there are promises about benefits but where are the benefits to the community? Where is the investment? Where are the opportunities for Aboriginal businesses?"

Kimberley Mineral Sands chief executive Stuart Pether told National Indigenous Times that "following community consultation, a Traffic Impact Assessment and Cartage Management Plan have been prepared and submitted to Main Roads WA as part of the approval process to run PBS 60m road trains".

WA Environment Minister Reece Whitby has told National Indigenous Times the Thunderbird Mineral Sands Project was approved in August 2018 by the then Minister for Environment.

"The proposal was assessed at the highest level by the independent Environmental Protection Authority, which follows rigorous assessment processes. The environmental impacts were also subject to public consultation," he said.

Mr Whitby said Kimberley Mineral Sands submitted a formal request to the EPA to amend the approved proposal in December 2021 to increase trucking movements to Broome Port as well as shipping activity to allow all product to be exported from the port.

"I understand the EPA considered a number of environmental factors including marine fauna, flora and vegetation, water quality, terrestrial fauna and social surroundings such as cultural heritage, dust and noise. Potential impacts on Aboriginal heritage sites and traditional cultural activities were also considered. The approved amendment allows for the export of bulk products via Broome in addition to Derby and includes approval for less than 50 return truck journeys per day."

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