Contentious proposal: Alcoa looks to expand, Dwellingup residents voice concerns

Photo: Alcoa of Australia.

Photo: Alcoa of Australia.

Shani Holster loves living in Dwellingup.

"At night time, I look up and my view of the night sky is breathtaking. It's absolutely beautiful," she said.

Her family has called the regional town home for more than a decade, moving there to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

However, Shani joins a growing group of Dwellingup residents concerned about the impact of Alcoa Australia's proposal to increase their rate of bauxite mining in the region.

Alcoa is applying to expand production at the Pinjarra Alumina Refinery by 5 per cent, which would require the clearing of up to 6,700 hectares of native vegetation.

Under the plan, between 2025 and 2035, there would be a transition from the Huntly Mine into the Myara North region and the Holyoake region - the most western point of which would be based 6.5 kilometres from the centre of Dwellingup.

Shani said she, and fellow residents, had a number of issues with the company's proposal, starting with the fact that it jeopardised the reason she settled down in Dwellingup in the first place - for peace and quiet.

We made a life choice and an investment to move to a quiet, rural area and this sort of development will ruin that.

Dwellingup resident Shani Holster

"If you've done the drive between Pinjarra and Dwellingup at night time and gone past the refinery, the bright light and the noise that comes from that 24/7 would be unbearable to live with," she said.

"Right now, there is no light pollution affecting my view of the night sky whatsoever but if this mine site goes in down the road, I suspect that will be severely ruined. I won't have that anymore.

"From a practicality point of view, it would make far more sense as a family of young kids to move closer to Mandurah or Perth... but we made a life choice and an investment to move to a quiet, rural area and this sort of development will ruin that."

Local residents are also "gravely concerned" about the risk to the local environment and Dwellingup's reputation as an eco-tourism hub in WA.

Shani said the region was home to some of the "rare, untouched Jarrah forest left in the state".

"There's so little pristine bush left these days that to go in and bulldoze it is heartbreaking," she said.

"They say that they will replant and regenerate but it will take another 100 years before you end up with decent habitat again, and we have a large population of the red-tailed black cockatoos which are an endangered species.

"There has been a lot of time and money and enthusiasm invested to develop eco-tourism in our town. We are an international trails hub with the Bibbulmun Track and Munda Biddi Trail along with many four-wheel drive, mountain bike and horse riding tracks.

"This runs quite a significant risk of ruining that."

However, a spokeswoman from Alcoa said the area mined would be rehabilitated "to the highest standards".

"The objective for Alcoa's rehabilitation is to re-establish a self-sustaining Jarrah forest ecosystem that fulfils forest land uses that include conservation, timber production, water catchment and recreation," she said.

"Of the area we have mined, 77 per cent has been rehabilitated to date.

"We were the first mining company in the world to achieve 100 per cent plant species richness in rehabilitated mine site areas and we have led research into innovative techniques for best-practice restoration."

She also added that Alcoa understood the "important role" nature-based tourism played in Dwellingup.

"Alcoa is an active supporter of a range of related initiatives, including the redevelopment of the Dwellingup Trails and Visitors Centre," she said.

"We are committed to continuing to operate in a way that minimises impacts to the environment and respects the way of life and economy that make Dwellingup so attractive to locals and visitors.

"Extensive studies and surveys are undertaken prior to mining to ensure important environmental, cultural and social values are identified and, where appropriate, protected."

But Shani said it was something the community would fiercely fight against.

"This isn't just something that the town of Dwellingup are opposed to. This area is something that a significant number of people value," she said.

Public consultation for the initial plan closed on Tuesday and is now with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to decide what level of assessment the proposal requires, if any.

The Alcoa spokeswoman said the company had recommended the proposal be assessed at "the highest level".

"The proposal is at the very early stages of the assessment process," she said.

"The full assessment process is expected to take about 30 months to complete. It will provide greater transparency about Alcoa's operations and considerable opportunities for stakeholder input."

To view Alcoa's environmental referral document, visit https://www.alcoa.com/australia/en/pdf/Alcoa-Referral-Supporting-Document.pdf.