26 February 2021

Impact of potential mining operation between Cobargo and Bermagui concerns locals

| Albert McKnight
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Image of region between Cobargo and Bermagui for proposed mining licence.

The blue shaded area in this image shows the region between Cobargo and Bermagui where the proposed mining licence would be granted. Image: MinView.

A potential mining operation over land and forest in southeast NSW, between Cobargo and Bermagui, has left residents worried about its impact on the local environment, waterways and residents’ livelihoods.

However, according to Bega Valley Shire Council’s understanding, there is a very low chance of mining operations actually going ahead.

As shown on the NSW Government’s Common Ground website, there is an application for an exploratory mining licence across approximately 30 square kilometres south of Cobargo Bermagui Road across the locality of Coolagolite, under the title ELA 6169.

The application is to find what is termed ‘group 1’ metallic minerals, including gold, copper, silver, lithium and cobalt.

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When confirming the application had been made, a spokesperson for the NSW Government’s Mining, Exploration and Geoscience (MEG) said the exploration licence (EL) application review process considers if conditions should be placed on an EL in the event that it is granted.

“If approved, an EL titleholder cannot perform any exploration activities over land without having a written access arrangement with landholders,” said the spokesperson.

“An exploration licence is not a right to mine – that requires a separate application process.”

Overlap map showing location of exploratory mining licence in Coolagolite.

This map shows details about the proposed location of the exploratory mining licence in Coolagolite. Image: Common Ground.

But the local community has expressed strong concern about what such a licence could mean for its region, with a meeting held on the issue in Bermagui on 10 February; an online petition objecting to the mining gaining more than 9000 signatures; and a Dontminecoolagolite Facebook page.

“We definitely don’t need it here,” said Yuin elder Ken Campbell. “I feel sorry for the farmers; they’ve lived there all their lives.”

Mr Campbell is worried about the impact on local sacred sites, but he said a major issue is what could happen to the nearby waterways of Wallaga Lake, Bermagui River and Cuttagee Lake.

“We’ve got our lovely clean lakes and we want to keep them,” he said. “We’ve got kids swimming in those lakes, and not just kids from our community.”

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Jenifer James, a Bermagui resident and wildlife coordinator, said one of the main points raised by participants in the recent community meeting was the difficulty in investing in or developing land if a mining licence is in place over it.

She is also concerned about the impact mining could have on the environment and local health, and is worried about a spillage from the chemicals used in mining.

“It will wipe out that area in terms of wildlife,” she said. “I think the good thing is that should it go ahead, we have a strong foundation to oppose the development.”

Bega Valley Shire Council’s director of community, environment and planning, Dr Alice Howe, said there are currently three exploration licences granted in the shire – one west of Eden and two in the Wyndham region – as well as four licence applications in Coolagolite, Eden, Pambula and west of Bemboka.

She said council had resolved, on Wednesday, 17 February, to write to Minister for Regional NSW Industry and Trade John Barilaro requesting further engagement with the community and council around those licence applications.

“Our understanding is at this stage there is a less than five per cent chance of a proposal actually progressing through to mining,” said Dr Howe.

She said from council’s understanding a miner would need to negotiate for access to private land with the landowner, and even if a licence is granted it would excise significant natural features like a national park.

The MEG spokesperson said conditions associated with an exploration licence are published on the NSW Government’s Digital Imaging Geological System (DiGS) website when an exploration licence is approved and granted.

To comment on an exploration licence application, email [email protected] or send a letter to Mining, Exploration and Geoscience, PO Box 344, Hunter Region Mail Centre, NSW 2310.

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