UPDATE 4:10pm Tuesday Oct 22:
The office of the Queensland minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps has issued the following update this afternoon:
"The Etheridge Shire Council is responsible for ensuring suitable road access to properties adjoining the relevant Mining Lease.
All issues pertaining to land access, including access to local council road reserves, are negotiated prior to a mining lease granted.
In accordance the Mineral Resources Act 1989, the Mining Lease holder has a compensation agreement with the owner of the property covered by the mining lease…
The Mining Lease holder, also in accordance with the Act, has a signed compensation agreement with the Etheridge Shire Council that covers the surveyed road reserve.
Usually these agreements cater for the use of the road by the miner, and potential impacts on public access. Any impacts are a consideration for council in their consideration of the compensation agreement.
While the Mining Lease Holder did not advise the Department of Natural Resources and Mines about the construction of a fence and gate, and compliance notices were issued by the Department, the broader issue of ongoing public access to Flat Creek Road is subject to significant debate.
DNRM is aware that road access between Georgetown and Flat Creek Station is important for the day-to-day operations of the grazing enterprise and is doing all it can to achieve a swift resolution to this issue.
To that end, DNRM officers have been advised that the Mining lease holder has offered to transport lick to cattle on Flat Gully Station via Flat Creek Road free of charge, but that offer has so far been refused. That offer remains open.
We urge the operators of Flat Creek Station that if they have serious concerns about the condition of people, livestock or property to contact Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Queensland (DAFF) Police.In the short-term, DNRM continues to work with the Etheridge Shire Council, the holder of the Mining Lease, the Queensland Police Service, the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry and other affected parties to resolve this complicated issue.
A meeting between the mining lease holder and the Etheridge Shire Council has been scheduled for the October 28.
On Wednesday 9 October 2013, two compliance notices were issued by the department to the mining lease holder, directing him to cease construction of the unauthorised fence and remove it and the gate by 5pm Friday, 11 October 2013.
The mining lease holder has so far failed to comply with the compliance notices and lodged an appeal against the directives. This appeal is being reviewed through due process."
Rural landholder group Property Rights Australia is calling for an urgent resolution to an extraordinary situation in north western Queensland where drought stricken graziers have had their main access road blocked by a fence constructed by a mining company.
ERO Georgetown Gold Operations recently constructed a permanent wire-mesh fence around its lease near Georgetown, telling ABC radio the fence was needed to meet the company's workplace, health and safety obligations.
"When we are operating heavy mining machinery, big machinery, it is very dangerous. We can't be aware of where other people are,” company spokesperson Gail Bradshaw told ABC.
"They also need to have an induction when they enter on to a mining lease, so you can't just walk in willy-nilly and enter on a mining lease.”
However, the permanent fence and its locked gates, said to have been constructed without formal approval from the Etheridge Shire Council, have effectively barricaded the council-maintained Flat Creek Road.
The road is is used as a main access road by Flat Creek Station and visitors to the area who include tourists and fossickers.
The fence has effectively prevented the station from using Flat Creek Road to access Georgetown, 45km away, for supplies.
It now only has access to Georgetown via what is described as 75km of bush tracks which involves a three-hour round trip.
Flat Creek Station is currently buying in feed supplements to help its herd of 1000 breeders through calving in drought conditions. Normally the station trucks in six tonne orders of livestock supplement and fuel for the pumps required to keep water up to livestock, but can only bring in half-ute loads because of the limitations caused by the rough terrain of the only track now available.
It is understood the owner of the mine has negotiated a conduct and compensation agreement with the owners of the cattle property upon which his mining lease is located, but questions surround whether he is obliged under existing law to ensure access to the same road to other users.
Is it believed that one of the complications surrounds the possibility that roadworks over the years may have resulted in at least part of the century-old road moving outside its original gazetted road corridor and onto the current lease area. This raises questions as to whether the local council or the mining leaseholder is legally responsible for providing road access to properties beyond the lease area.
In a statement to Beef Central a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Mines said the department was working with the Etheridge Shire Council, the holder of Mining Lease 30124, the Queensland Police Service and other affected parties, and another meeting is planned for October 28 in an attempt to resolve the situation.
“On Wednesday 9 October 2013, two compliance notices were issued by the department to the mining lease holder, directing him to cease construction of the unauthorised fence and remove it and the gate by 5pm Friday, 11 October 2013.
“The mining lease holder has so far failed to comply with the compliance notices and lodged an appeal against the directives. This appeal is being reviewed through due process.
“While the department does not have the legal power under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 to remove the fence itself, it continues to work with all parties to resolve this situation.”
Property Rights Australia has called for an immediate resolution to the predicament.
“This has become a deplorable animal welfare situation with immediate resolution needed,” Property Rights Australia president Joanne Rea said.
“Flat Creek Station has been caught as meat in the sandwich in a dispute between the gold mining company and Etheridge Shire Council about the long serving access road to the station that crosses the much more recently granted mining lease area.
“Because of the drought the mining company has run out of water and has suspended operations.
“Until it rains the signage erected that claims that ‘this road will be shortly obstructed and rendered impassable by mining works’ will not occur in the same time frame crucial for Flat creek station to bring in bulk supplement to care for the welfare of the livestock.
“The station must be given free access while the miner, the council and the Department of Natural Resources and Mines resolve the matter.”
Property Rights Australia said that under Queensland law the mining company has the right to a 28 day appeal, which means that the soonest a compliance order could be enforced would be November 5.
“Even if the mining company has broken no law this action shows the cavalier attitude of some companies to landowners and their staff,” Mrs Rea said.
“With the volume of mining activity in the State perhaps some regulations need to be in place to ensure that landowner’s usual access is not blocked until one of equal quality and convenience is constructed.”
Flat Creek Station also runs a camping and fossicking farmstay business. Two caravans caught behind the locked gate after it was erected were forced to leave the via the rough 4WD track, with chainsaws and shovels needed to complete the trip.
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