Monday, June 27

Where Mining Meets Rainforest: Tasmania’s Battle for Tarkine | Tasmania

Four days before the Morrison government decided the future of a mining development in takayna / Tarkine, 77-year-old Frits Harmsen planted a camping chair in front of trucks on an unpaved road that snaked through temperate rainforest. largest in Australia.

Harmsen, a former French horn musician with the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra, was part of a small band of protesters backed by Bob Brown that started on Friday the 19th trying to block the work of MMG, a mostly Chinese-owned mineral company, in the remote city of Tasmania. northwest.

Along the way, the mining giant was attempting drilling and other tests for what it hopes will become a much larger project: a new pipeline and waste storage facility near the town of Rosebery.

MMG says a new tailings dam is needed to extend the life of an 85-year zinc, copper and lead mine that employs about 500 employees and contractors. If the dam is approved, the company expects to clear up to 285 hectares – roughly the equivalent of 350 football fields, rainforest and other land for both the South Marionoak dam and a 3.5 km pipeline that would transport toxic waste. from the mine through the Pieman. River.

Frits Harmsen, 77, who was arrested Friday while protesting a mining development in Tarkine, northwest Tasmania.
Frits Harmsen, 77, who was arrested Friday while protesting a mining development in Tarkine, northwest Tasmania. Photography: Bob Brown Foundation

The plan is supported by the Liberal Tasmanian government, which has welcomed MMG’s proposal such as “investing for the future, especially at a time when every job counts,” and the local mayor.

But activists at the Bob Brown Foundation say that crossing the river would place the tailings dam within takayna / Tarkine, a vast and environmentally diverse area that the Australian Heritage Council recommended nine years ago should be protected. Opponents demonstrated at Hobart City Hall on Saturday calling for development to halt.

The foundation said Harmsen was one of 17 arrested at the scene. Speaking after being accused of failing to comply with the police, he said he was acting to protect “this incredible expanse of rainforest on behalf of my children and grandchildren,” and because he felt powerless as he watched governments make decisions that damaged the environment. environment without being subject to adequate scrutiny.

“I’m here today because nothing else seems to be working,” Harmsen said. “I feel like we’ve lost a bit of our moral compass as a developed nation. Particularly now, we have to protect what is left of nature. It is too important to turn into a garbage can, which is basically what [the tailings dam] it is.”

The scope of MMG’s proposal became clear last month when Documents submitted with the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley. He argued that the impact of development on threatened species would not be significant and should not have to be fully assessed under national environmental laws.

The law decision was due to be presented on Tuesday, but the environment department’s website was updated late on Friday to indicate that the deadline had been met. extended until July 23.

As they have never been formally recognized, Tarkine’s boundaries remain vaguely defined and controversial but, according to the heritage council’s assessment, it covers at least 439,000ha. It includes windswept beaches, button grass moors, wild rivers, and unique cave formations, but is best known for being home to the world’s second-largest temperate rainforest and Aboriginal shell dumps. Some parts have been mined and logged over a long period, but important sections remain untouched by development.

Evaluating the site nine years ago, the heritage council founded it had “exceptional national heritage importance”, was “one of the most important archaeological regions in the world” and had tropical forests linked to the ancient continent of Gondwana. The then federal Labor government largely ignored his advice and protected only a 2 km strip near the coast for its rich indigenous heritage.

The Bob Brown Foundation wants the entire area to be added to Tasmania’s World Heritage Wilderness Area, which covers about a fifth of the state.

Jenny Weber, the group’s campaign manager, said it was “one of the last wild places on Earth” and that it provides refuge for more than 60 threatened species. She argued that the company’s presentation minimized the damage the development could cause and said it had recognized that the dam could be built on other sites outside of Tarkine.

The environmental group wrote to Ley last month urging it to grant an emergency national heritage list for the area, a step that would have been echoed. a 2009 decision by then environment minister Peter Garrett to avoid a 134 km road through the rainforest, and invited her to inspect the forest personally. The minister did not reply.

Weber asked Ley to use his powers to block him before the formal application process began. “It’s the biggest fight we have on our hands at the Tarkine,” he said. “It is such a massive foray into the intact rainforest that includes the habitat of endangered species that we are pushing for it to be declared clearly unacceptable.”

Part of the Tarkine Rainforest.
Part of the Tarkine Rainforest. Photography: Bob Brown Foundation

MMG maintains that the environmental impact of the dam can be managed. His spokesman, Troy Hey, said he was “absolutely committed to continuing Rosebery’s life” and that the development would have a “relatively small footprint” on the Tarkine border.

He said the company would “never stop looking for other options” for waste storage, but the proposed site was the only viable option to replace two nearly full dams by 2024.

“We think you can balance development and mining sites like Rosebery and protecting Tasmania’s wilderness,” Hey said. “We’ve been doing that for 85 years quite successfully and we don’t think the development of South Marionoak will deviate from that.”

A spokesperson for Ley said the department was evaluating the proposal and a decision was expected “in due course.”

“Regarding the Bob Brown Foundation, we have received correspondence, which is under consideration,” the spokesperson said.

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