Salt mine: Alice needs to grasp a major opportunity

p1911saltmineLETTER TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir – As we move ever closer to commencement of several large mining projects in the region, this week’s presentation to the town council by Tellus Holdings on the proposed salt mine at Titijkala raises some very important questions.

 

The project will either stand to benefit or to haunt our community potentially for hundreds of years.

 

The salt mine presents a fantastic opportunity for our community. The initial mining project has a life of around 25 years, however we were informed that the deposit is of such a scale that the operation has a potential life span of 500 years.

 

There will be some 600 jobs during construction, declining to around 200 during operation, with a potential for hundreds more as various aspects of the storage business come on line.

 

Clearly the effect on the Alice and surrounding communities will be quite profound and as such we should give this potentially fabulous project the level of analysis and support it deserves.

 

The immediate issues for the government and the Alice are quite simple: If we don’t commit to providing sealed all weather access from Alice to the mine site at Titijkala the Tellus salt mine will be run to a large degree as a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) operation. That scenario would be very bad news for the Alice.

 

The sheer scale of the economic opportunity this mine presents our region over such a length of time demands the provision of infrastructure to both support the project and maximise community gain.

 

The Territory Government should begin immediate negotiations with Tellus with the intent to provide all weather access. Clearly 120 kms of sealed road is not much to pay when measured against the long term economic benefit this project will provide the region.

 

Tellus put to council that we have a seven month window in which to decide our community’s choice of action, road or FIFO being the options presented.

 

As part of and because of this discussion the Territory also needs to consider urgently legislation addressing FIFO.

 

I am led to believe that WA and Queensland have acted on or are considering such legislation because of concerns raised around the effects of FIFO on local communities and families, upon which FIFO can be, and often is, completely destructive!

 

Given the number of approaching projects it is also clearly in the Territory’s interest that we establish rules around FIFO, rules that put the interest of Territory families and their communities first.

 

We don’t want to be sitting back in 50 years’ time, or 500 for that matter, surrounded by a lot of big holes in the ground and precious little to show for it.

 

The Territory must gain from both the royalties and by filling the jobs! Jobs filled by Territorians allow us to extract maximum economic benefit and maximum community benefit.

 

A window of opportunity for Territory growth and development is open, but not for very long! It’s time to act!

 

Steve Brown

Alice Springs

 

 

 

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33 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Posted March 23, 2017 at 11:31 am

    My thanks to Tellus Managing Director, Duncan van der Merwe, for his comprehensive reply to comments and concerns expressed on this article; and also to Councillor Steve Brown whose letter to Alice Springs News Online seems to have done more to bring this project to public attention than has occurred before.
    There’s a lot of information to take note of here and only limited time left for public comment on the draft EIS.
    It is a pleasant change to see the public’s right to know acknowledged rather than the hitherto usual modus operandi of business and government operating on the basis of what they consider to be the public’s need to know.

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  2. Harold
    Posted March 23, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Fantastic to read a pragmatic response from Duncan van der Merwe as opposed to the fear mongering opening post and the response from our very own Cr Brown. Should the taxpayer not promise to foot the entire bill for the road upgrade immediately?
    It’s perfectly expected that a MD will push as hard as possible to get the maximum benefit for their shareholders, but just because they blow a bit doesn’t mean you have to fall down immediately.
    Emotion won’t play a part in their decision, it will come down to the business case for each option they have available.
    Having said that, worker happiness is a key ingredient of any successful business and should FIFO provide that, then it may be the preferred method even if a little more costly.
    It would be a bit of a toss up between FIFO and a 2.5 to 3hr return commute to work each day if it was the choice I was faced with.

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  3. Hal Duell
    Posted March 23, 2017 at 6:39 am

    I admit to being conflicted.
    On the one hand, I agree with Cr. Brown that we in Alice would be fools to let this opportunity slip through our hands.
    On the other, what about the back-fill?
    Salt out, toxic waste in? Is that the equation? And if so, can it be done safely?
    And here we come to another conundrum. We need the salt, but we have created the toxic waste. Can we possibly kill two birds with one stone (mine) here?
    By “we” I am referring to humanity. And to anticipate, that is, before anyone brings it up, in this global village we now live in, I have absolutely no time for the chicken-shit mantra of “not in my back yard”.
    We live in one world, and have to start recognising that fact.
    I also like the comments from Tallus about a circular economy as opposed to a linear economy. “We believe waste is a valuable resource and we should treat it as that.”
    Ambitious, but it’s high time this approach was used in the corporate world as well as locally as in the recycle centre at the local tip.

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  4. Careful with that $, Eugene
    Posted March 22, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Re the comments by Tellus MD, Duncan van der Merwe, posted March 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm: It is a pleasant surprise to see a managing director taking our questions seriously, and going to the trouble of addressing them clearly and in detail in the local public media. Bravo Duncan van der Merwe!
    If only other prominent business people and other community leaders were prepared to be equally respectful of the public, we would all be a lot better off in many ways.

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  5. Tellus MD, Duncan van der Merwe
    Posted March 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Tellus would like to thank readers for the questions raised in response to the article about its plans for the Chandler Project. The Chandler Facility is currently being assessed through the EIS process. The EIS can be accessed via https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/environmental-assessments/register/chandler-facility and is open for comment until March 31.
    There have been a number of questions and issues that we would like to address.
    With respect to the upgrade of the Maryvale road Tellus has proposed to construct a private road for use during its operations.
    During community consultation stakeholders expressed a strong desire for Tellus to consider the benefits of upgrading and using the existing Maryvale road instead, which Tellus committed to investigate further.
    Tellus will need to look at both road options and assess the potential impacts and benefits.
    Options for funding the Maryvale road upgrade are being investigated and may include Tellus contributing to either bi-lateral or tri-lateral funding arrangements with the Territory Government and/or Federal Government. There are also opportunities for future funding through existing Commonwealth Government grants e.g. Developing the North Fund. Under this scenario, a proponent could contribute an equal sum of money that matches a government grant.
    In response to questions raised regarding the waste storage part of the business, Tellus is seeking approval and regulation under the NT Waste Management Pollution Control Act for the storage, recover-recycle and isolation of materials, including hazardous waste.
    Australia is one of the highest emitters of hazardous waste on a per capita basis and over the last 20 years waste production in Australia has grown at six times population growth.
    As our population grows and we become more industrialized we are producing more and more waste, yet do not have the infrastructure to deal with it effectively or responsibly.
    For example we produce over six million tonnes per annum and about 75% of it is not recycled or recovered.
    Tellus’s proposed Chandler project is a third generation design and supports both the principal of permanent isolation of hazardous materials using sound environmental management principals that protects the environment and people, and also the circular economy “Take, Make, Recover this Generation or Store Safely for next Generation or Dispose Safely”.
    This is in contrast to the Linear economy approach of “Take, Make and Dispose”.
    We believe waste is a valuable resource and we should treat it as that. Tellus propose to develop infrastructure that creates the opportunity for the future potential recovery of valuable materials (that are currently deemed waste).
    A range of hazardous wastes produced mostly by the mining, oil and gas, chemical, manufacturing, agricultural, site remediation, utilities and government (including State Emergency Service – man made or natural disaster) could be stored either temporarily (until recovery and treatment is possible) or permanently inside the void spaces left from the salt mining operations at the proposed Chandler Facility.
    The project is not underpinned by any one source of waste.
    The proposed facility has been designed to accept, and safely store, a wide range of waste including solid and liquid waste that meets strict waste acceptance criteria. Liquid waste would be solidified before emplacement or be transported underground in a slurry form which would then solidify in the void. This is explained in Chapter 3 of the EIS.
    The Proposal could diversify the economy of the Territory and attract new salt, waste recycling and recovery and even tourism related industries to Central Australia.
    For a brief description of the project need please read the following fact sheet:
    http://www.tellusholdings.com/pdf/2017/ch-fact-sheets/CH-Fact-Sheet-02-Need-2017-Feb-23.pdf
    For a brief description of the project benefits please read the following fact sheet:
    http://www.tellusholdings.com/pdf/2017/ch-fact-sheets/CH-Fact-Sheet-03-Benefits-2017-Feb-23.pdf
    Tellus encourages interested parties to read the EIS and other fact sheets available on the Tellus website:
    http://www.tellusholdings.com/project_chandler_fact_sheets.html
    http://www.tellusholdings.com/project_chandler_environmental_impact_statement.html
    Managing Director,
    Tellus Holdings Ltd

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  6. Steve Brown
    Posted March 22, 2017 at 8:18 am

    “Pathetic” is a good description for someone too gutless to put their name to a comment.
    Legitimate questions come with a legitimate verifiable names – happy to answer any of those that I can.
    I won’t however answer tawdry obvious push propaganda, questions that treat Alice Springs News readers like a bunch of fools!
    You should direct questions about the mining process to Tellus Salt, they have been very open throughout the process to date, regularly and openly consulting the public through a series of public presentations.
    The last of these were in open council and before media just a couple of weeks ago … hence my letter asking the question that should be on everyone’s lips if this project goes ahead and it appears to be very much on track to do so.
    What does our community gain from it? Is there opportunity for us? What do we as a community do take advantage of the available opportunity?
    Or are we simply going to be bystanders watching a wonderful natural resource disappear much like Northern Gas.

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  7. Legitimate questions
    Posted March 21, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    There have been some simple and straightforward questions asked in this thread.
    Why is it not possible to get some simple and straightforward answers?
    Make up your own minds Alice Springs News Online readers, who is really spreading the half-truths!
    Pathetic!

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  8. Get real
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I take back my comment about most waste storage occurring in barrels and shipping containers! Should have read the fine print!
    See the pictures of the backfill method here!
    https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/397949/chandler_draft_eis_appendixG_waste_management_plan.pdf#page=37
    It is estimated this pump-the-sludge-underground method will make up 50% of the waste that will be dumped underground!

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  9. David de Vries
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    There is a common sense answer to the type of waste that needs to be deposited in this repository – expensive waste.
    The kind of waste that no local authority within 1000 km will accept dumping or storing on their disused mine sites.
    The kind of waste that you need to put on a tanker and have driven 1000 km+ then pay a significant fee to dispose of.
    Hard core, top dollar, don’t put your hands in it, waste.

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  10. Alex Read
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 9:51 am

    @ Hal: In regards to the liquid storage of CSG waste in the mine, have a look at a few of the EIS documents at: https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/environmental-assessments/register/chandler-facility/draft-eis
    Specifically appendices F,G and I.
    These discuss the proposed hydraulic back fill processing method and list the estimated volume of CSG wastes and other materials.
    Injection of a viscous slurry is one proposed method of disposal.

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  11. Thanks
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Never thought I’d say it, but thanks Steve for bringing some focus onto what these guys are up to!
    They were FIFOing under the radar for a while there.

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  12. Concerned Territorian
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Can TELLUS please do the respectful thing and answer these four questions:
    1. Who are the top five identified clients (by cient $ value) who will be dumping their waste there? If you won’t tell us client names, please advise type of waste.
    2. Regarding these top five, where are the source mines or fracking gas activities located? That is, where is the waste from these top five identified clients coming from? Or where do you hope it will come from?
    3. Is this project viable if, following the NT government enquiry, the NT goes frack free?
    4. When the NT goes frack free, what will your answers to Q1 and Q2 be?

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  13. David de Vries
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Everything gets turned on its head. Once upon a time, conservatives believed in the market and small government.
    Government intervention was synonymous with perverse incentives and waste.
    Meanwhile the left looked to government regulation and funding to save rights and nature.
    Here we have the conservatives believing every business project needs a hand out and the all-wise paternalistic state will keep us safe while the opponents say keep the government out of big business welfarism and don’t trust it for safeguards.

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  14. Mandy
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Why do you support fracking?
    Are you running for Mayor in 2017?
    What are your business interests in this town? Are you involved in the mining industry?
    I don’t want to vote for someone who supports fracking in the NT or anywhere in Australia.

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  15. Get real
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 11:18 am

    The EIS specifically states that liquid form materials (liquids and sludges) will be stored there. Mostly in barrels and shipping containers – and it is very lacking in detail about how they are going to test each of the incoming barrels and containers.
    Let’s just call this what it is – another big attempt to get the NT to be A BIG DUMP for FRACKING and MINING WASTE.
    This talk of salt and tourism and rainbows is just window dressing to sell the project to a distracted public; to assist TELLUS to make presentations to community and TO groups more palatable.
    There is specific reference to “solving the forecast pool of waste materials in the NT”, so wouldn’t it be nice to hear from people on this thread who seem to know so much: Is this project viable without NT FRACKING WASTE?
    Would anyone be surprised if, just like the pipeline, new gas turbines etc, this project is all about trying to get the infrastructure for a fracking gas waste and waste dump economy in place before people start to ask the really important questions?
    So why the rush?
    Because Tellus and others know that when results of the Government’s inquiry into fracking are handed down, it will be abundantly clear that there is ZERO social licence and unconventional fracking in the NT will not be allowed.
    This will mean that the major business case for this dump will rely on WASTE from all other parts of Australia / the world(?).
    And Tellus wouldn’t want Territorians to be asking too many questions about that.
    Best to stick to talk of salt and new roads for our economic prosperity!

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  16. Steve Brown
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 10:36 am

    @ Jimmy: As always he is pushing propaganda and half truths.
    The salt mine business case is based on the mining and sale of salt the space created by that activity is available for storage and as such makes up “part” of the business plan.
    Storage in a salt mine is a logical natural fit as salt deposits are considered to be the world’s most stable geological formations which have zero connection to water bearing aquifers.
    We know that because salt can’t exist in the rock form where there is water.
    This salt is five hundred million years old. That’s twice the age of other well know salt deposits, making this mine arguabley the world’s safest storage location and certainly much safer than an wherever waste products are presently stored.
    The mine will have space available for storage for all kinds of products, clearly we will be relying on our Government to regulate what the stored waste can consist of.
    That regulation can occur under the Mining Act or whatever Act Government chooses, governments write acts, Jimmy.
    It could even occur under a specifically written Act called “The Chandler Salt Mine Act of 2017”.
    However, in all the discussion we should not lose sight of the existence of waste products of almost infinite variety that require safe storage until the world finds another way to deal with them.
    Nor should we ever lose site of our combined responsibility for those products! All in all just another very urgent reason for Government to get publicly involved in this project.

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  17. Collins
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 6:50 am

    @ Hal: Storage of salt waste from CSG has always been part of the proposal. Clearly it won’t be in slurry form as stated below. Storing liquids in a salt deposit would be a bad idea for obvious reasons.

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  18. Jimmy Cocking
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    The waste component Alex Read described is detailed in the EIS for the proposed Chandler Salt Mine and long term toxic waste storage project. It is open for comment until March 31.
    See here for details https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/environmental-assessments/register/chandler-facility
    Currently mining activities are exempted from the Waste Management and Pollution Act, which adds a complication to regulating it.
    The business case is not built on selling salt but long term waste storage contracts that will almost definitely involve toxic waste products from the gas and mining sector amongst others.

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  19. Karma Geddon
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Steve is on the money with this one. Time to be proactive and get this happening.

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  20. Just Saying
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    It makes good economic sense to fully use existing infrastructure.
    The trainline seems a good way to shift the workers down there – cheaper, safer and less pollution etc.
    Why not use what we have already? It could also be a great service for the Titjikala community.
    If we must have a mine there then there should also be plans put in place for the maximum opportunities for the Titjikala mob.

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  21. Steve Brown
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 11:26 am

    @ Alex: Just because we made a stupid short sighted mistake once before doesn’t mean we a destined to repeat that same mistake over and over.
    We are humans we are supposedly in possession of a level of intelligence that allows us to view our mistakes and learn from them.
    There is no comparison however between Tanami, some 600 km, away and a mine project that could drive its staff to work from town if there was good all weather access.
    The salt mine is quite prepared to go ahead without that access in fact I think they prefer the FIFO option.
    I’m suggesting that we negotiate an outcome that is more beneficial to the region so that we aren’t eventually left with no gain and a big hole! I’m suggesting we legislate FIFO, making it much more difficult to base projects on its use.
    At the same time we negotiate the funding for the road, a road that we need anyway, regardless of the mine.
    I’m suggesting we leverage the absolute maximum outcome for our community from this project. If we can’t achieve that in the final analysis we certainly should be questioning whether or not we want this project.
    Further to all of that, the salt mine is not the only project close to town currently considering its options for staffing.
    So right now is a very good moment for a new government to set some direction and to show some willingness to make deals that maximise outcomes for all parties.

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  22. Hal Duell
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 10:20 am

    @ Alex Read, posted March 17, 2017 at 10:23 am:
    You state that “Tellus intends to transport, process and store vast quantities of hazardous waste into the mine voids as the salt is removed.
    These include thousands of litres of CSG waste material and heavy metals including cadmium and lead. This will be done through pumping a noxious slurry underground as well as solid forms of storage.”
    I’m not arguing with you here, but I’m curious.
    Can you document your allegations? If you can, your argument would go a long way to swaying some opinions (including mine) away from support for this project.

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  23. Collins
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    @ S Taylor: It is on a PPL.

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  24. Steve Brown
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Sigh. It’s no bloody wonder our town struggles to lift itself off the deck when you read comments like some of these. I guess that’s why you won’t put your names on your posts. A tiny little bit embarrassed? Completely understand why you would be.
    The salt mine doesn’t need the road. They are quite happy to run a fly in fly out operation and in fact would like an excuse to do so. They are sealing the necessary operational transport route to the rail head, some 10 km.
    Alice Springs needs the road sealed if we want to attract the workforce to be permanently based in our town, growing our economy!
    Along with that workforce we also get the local business boosting ability to provide services. And we get to be involved in the tourism and ornamental side of the salt mine.
    The road will not only serve the mine. It will serve the pastoral industry, the tourist industry, it will also provide all weather access to the community of Titijkala.
    It will provide all weather access to the off-road facility facilitating the establishment of a vehicle testing industry, already in the wind.
    It will provide access to the proposed blocks and tourist facilities at Ooraminna. It will provide all weather dust and rut free access to the Finke track or at least the first 100 km of it, to the date farm, to future business.
    Yes! This is a service road that we must eventually seal anyway.
    In fact, the NT Government has just very short sightedly clawed back the funding for the first 20 km of it, otherwise work would be already underway!
    Why wouldn’t we want the jobs for our kids? Try and understand the earnings from this project into our town over a 25 year period, extrapolate that out to a couple of hundred years of rates on two hundred houses. 200 high income wage packets into our economy every week!
    The extra jobs over and above the mining jobs in service industries the extra bods in our community organisations!
    The facts are that if we a clever enough if we move fast enough the Alice stands to gain mightily from this project.
    The alternative, if we think it’s all OK to sit around on our non-contributing proverbials worrying that someone might get something for nothing, while contributing somewhere around nothing ourselves, I guess we’ll get what we deserve as well.
    A big fat nothing.

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  25. Posted March 17, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Councillor Steve Brown states the proposed Titjikala “salt mine presents a fantastic opportunity for our community” but to my mind his comment piece suggests the Tellus Holdings presentation to the town council has overtones of an ultimatum to Alice Springs.
    There are legitimate questions to be raised about the demand for a sealed 120km road from Alice Springs to the mine site to be paid for by taxpayers.
    What immediately springs to my mind is why the same conditions haven’t applied to the massive gold mining operations to the northwest of Alice Springs that have been operating since the mid 1980s.
    Surely by now there has been sufficient revenue generated from those mines to offset the cost of sealing the Tanami Road?
    This was first called for by the new Member for Stuart, Tony Greatorex, as long ago as 1966, yet to this day the often shocking state of this potentially significant highway route to northwest WA is a perennial topic of debate in the media.
    By contrast we have the Tableland and Carpentaria Highways (from the Barkly and Stuart Highways respectively) that converge towards Borroloola which were sealed by the Commonwealth in 1967.
    This was done in part to assist the development of the massive McArthur River mine site which at the time was intended to include a new port town based on Centre Island with a population of 10,000 (to put that in perspective, the population of Alice Springs at the time was about 7,000).
    However, the development of the McArthur River mine was postponed and didn’t proceed until 1995, becoming a FIFO operation and (as things currently stand) will leave little in improvements for the Gulf Region once the mining operation there eventually ends.
    But it will almost certainly be leaving a significant environmental legacy to manage inevitably at great expense to the taxpayer.
    For any mining operation, either current or prospective, we all need to start seeing a great deal more in return otherwise we’re just allowing ourselves and the country to be ripped off.

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  26. Get real
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Steve Brown. Off the mark again.
    Harold nailed it and Alex Read is also spot on re where our attention should be.
    Whilst it is fine for the Alice Springs News Online to give Steve Brown a voice for his politics and opinions, surely you could be more discerning regarding the headline?
    “Divisive Councillor calls for public funds to pave road for mining giant’s fly in fly out workforce.”

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  27. S Taylor
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    I am led to believe this is on Aboriginal land and royalties will be paid.
    If so, why should the taxpayer foot the bill? I am sure CLC and Centrecorp have taken oodles of money out of this now sorry little town. Think again, Councillor Brown.

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  28. Alex Read
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 10:23 am

    The mining of salt is only half the story of this project. Tellus intends to transport, process and store vast quantities of hazardous waste into the mine voids as the salt is removed.
    These include thousands of litres of CSG waste material and heavy metals including cadmium and lead. This will be done through pumping a noxious slurry underground as well as solid forms of storage.
    The potential legacy of this mine is therefore huge. What is concerning about waste disppsal here is that it will be exempt from regulations controlling the waste during mining and there is signifcant uncertainty about how it will be regulated several years down the track considering the Gunner government is currently reforming the licences around waste disposal.
    While it may represent a great economic opportunity it is vital that we know exactly what materials, concentrations and laws are in place to protect our groundwater systems from potential contamination events that could occur many decades later.

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  29. Harold
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 9:47 am

    The idea that the Territory taxpayer foot the bill for the entire upgrade of that road seems a little extreme. They’ve obviously sold it to Cr Brown though. Good for them.

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  30. Physics Bill
    Posted March 17, 2017 at 9:36 am

    How does Tellus plan to ship the salt they will be mining? They will have it much easier with a sealed road. Let them pay for the road they need!

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  31. Careful with that $, Eugene
    Posted March 16, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Are you trying to have a lend of us again, Steve?
    I understand that sealing the road to the mine site would probably cost between $50m and $60m.
    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the mine operators, who would be the major users and beneficiaries of the seal, to share the construction costs of that road?
    There would be huge debt servicing and opportunity costs for the NT Government if it went further into debt to finance this proposal, which would benefit a company in which the NT Government would have no equity and whose activities may not provide NT citizens with much in the way of net revenue benefits.
    There are also other projects which would arguably have much greater returns for Territorians.
    The company should provide us with an adequate and independent cost-benefit analysis and detailed shared costs proposal if it wants us to take its suggestion seriously.

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  32. Frequent Flyer
    Posted March 16, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    FIFO workers-must have a Budget Airline into ASP? 120 klms sealed road guarantees growth for Alice Springs economy. Town Council and Tourism Central Australia should push both options.

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  33. Hal Duell
    Posted March 16, 2017 at 11:46 am

    I agree with Cr Brown that a sealed road of some 120 kms is a small price to pay to secure this project for Alice’s future.
    Consider that the Federal and Queensland governments are willing to build a reportedly 1 billion dollar rail link to get coal from the Carmichael and Adani coal mine to a sea terminal at Abbot Point, and this infrastructure pales in comparison.
    And the product being mined here is salt, not coal. So let’s get on board!

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