WA Forest Alliance raises concerns over Alcoa's Dwellingup expansion proposal

Photo: Jeremy Perey.
Photo: Jeremy Perey.

A peak WA forest conservation group has called on Alcoa to reconsider their latest expansion proposal, citing concerns for some of the "best remaining Jarrah forests" left in the state.

The Mandurah Mailpreviously reported on a number of Dwellingup residents concerned about the impact of Alcoa Australia's plan 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.

Now, a prominent environmental organisation has also expressed their disappointment with the proposal.

The WA Forest Alliance, WA's peak forest conservation group, represent more than 20 forest groups across Perth and the South West, including the Conservation Council of WA.

A spokeswoman from the organisation, Jess Beckerling, said the proposal simply "doesn't belong in this century".

"This proposed expansion of Alcoa's Huntly mine would destroy some of the best remaining Jarrah forests left along the Darling Scarp," she said.

"...if successful in this proposed expansion, Alcoa would be given approval to clear and mine a further 6700 hectares of Jarrah forest ecosystems between 2025 and 2035.

"We need to be protecting forests for climate and for life, not bulldozing and burning them."

We need to be protecting forests for climate and for life, not bulldozing and burning them.

WA Forest Alliance spokeswoman Jess Beckerling

Ms Beckerling said the organisation also had concerns for local residents, eco-tourism capabilities and small businesses operating in the region.

"The Dwellingup and Jarrahdale communities are very clear that they do not want this expansion to go ahead," she said.

"[They] have been calling for mining exclusion zones around their towns for years, but Alcoa is ignoring their pleas and now angling to clear and mine these magnificent areas of forest that are within a stone's throw of the towns.

"Clearing the forests is just not compatible with eco-tourism or with the other sustainable forest-based enterprises that are functioning and growing in this area.

"People come to the these areas to see the forests, to connect and rejuvenate in nature and to raise families in this beautiful, clean part of the world.

"There are a great deal of people employed in sustainable industries in these areas that will lose out significantly if these areas of forest are cleared for mining. We will certainly see businesses unable to develop and collapse if this proposal goes ahead."

However, in a previous interview with the Mandurah Mail, an Alcoa spokeswoman said that Alcoa understood the "important role" nature-based tourism played in Dwellingup, and that the area mined would be rehabilitated "to the highest standards".

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

"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."

But the WA Forest Alliance isn't convinced, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to "rigorously assess" Alcoa's proposal.

Public consultation for the initial plan closed last month and is now with the EPA to decide what level of environmental evaluation the proposal requires, if any.

"We [also] want the EPA process... to allow the community an opportunity to fully express their views," Ms Beckerling said.

"People have had enough of Alcoa behaving as if it owns these forests. They are worth more to all of us protected."

The Alcoa spokeswoman said the company had also 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."

Meanwhile, the Shire of Murray has also spoken up about Alcoa's proposal to expand their mining activities, and its possible impact on the Dwellingup townsite and recreation precincts.

"The Shire is aware of Alcoa's intention to seek approval to expand its operations and bauxite export volumes through the Environmental Protection Authority and the Shire will, at the appropriate time, make a submission in line with the above position," shire president David Bolt said.

"Given the Alcoa proposal is a 'significant proposal', we believe an Environmental Impact Assessment should be undertaken and the appropriate opportunity provided to the community and other stakeholders to submit feedback on the proposed longer-term mine plans and environmental management requirements."

Mr Bolt said the council had been aware of the community's concern regarding the proposal since 2016.

"Since this time, the Shire has been supporting the community to establish a sustainable future for Dwellingup, which is hoped will be achieved through the successful coexistence of the many competing elements of its economic, social, cultural and environmental make-up including mining, construction, agriculture, forestry, recreation, tourism and its environmental assets," he said.

"In this endeavour, and due to the operation of many of these sectors in the state forest environment, the Shire of Murray, in partnership with Peel Development Commission and a Stakeholder Reference Group, commenced the Dwellingup Futures Growth Management Road Map project.

"The intention is to formulate an agreed and aligned vision for the future growth of Dwellingup including an examination of the competing sectors. A consultant is assisting with the development of the Road Map.

"Further engagement with stakeholders, including Dwellingup community members and industry representatives, will recommence shortly, after consultation was placed on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

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