Whenever a proposal is put forward for a new quarry site or extension to an existing site, there is community reservation. There is not just concern from residents, businesses and local councillors about the potential disruptions of a new quarry development (eg noise levels, dust, increased traffic, impact on the surrounding environment, flora and fauna, etc) but also what will be done with the quarry site once its reserves are exhausted. In fact, most new quarry projects will not proceed unless the quarry business includes a work plan that outlines what it will do to rehabilitate the site.
In the last month, we have seen some interesting examples of what can be done with ?extinct? quarries. Last issue, we reported on Aberdeen?s Rubislaw quarry, which has lain dormant and neglected since 1971 and only now is being surveyed with a view to possible uses.
In this issue, we cover a Shanghai company?s bold plan to build a $US555 million ?groundscraper? hotel and entertainment complex against the rockface of a disused quarry. Closer to home, spoil from Brisbane?s Legacy Way project is being transported via underground conveyor to Mount Coot-tha quarry and will be compacted and used by the quarry for rehabilitation works. It should also not be forgotten that the Penrith Lakes Scheme in New South Wales, the Valley Lake estate in Victoria and the Quarry Amphitheatre in Perth were once quarry sites and today are a testament of what can be achieved with careful long term planning and restoration.
The quarry industry is well regulated and if there are problems with the remediation of sites within Australia, it seems to be occurring at some levels of the mining sector, not the quarry industry. Most state government departments (eg Victoria?s DPI, NSW?s RMS, Queensland?s DEEDI, etc) request six monthly and annual reports by ?declared mines and quarries?, which review system performance against targets, cover operational faces, permanent batters, floor, overburden dumps, storages (tailings and water), confirm the adequacy of hydrogeological and geotechnical risk management practices or highlight where practices are to be changed to better manage risks, and provide a work plan to address key risk issues or works to be managed in the next 12 month period. They are also increasingly asking for information that relates to stockpiling and topsoil application and revegetation measures as parts of efforts to control and fight erosion.
Nevertheless, smaller operators and family-owned businesses should be vigilant. They aren?t blessed with the type of environmental resources and personnel that a major like Boral or Holcim has at its disposal to initiate an effective work plan but the expectation of government will be the same – that they clean up after themselves once finished.
Perhaps if you are a smaller operator, you may need to consider reviewing your whole of mine life plan. Even if your quarry is still many years away from closing, what can you do now to ensure you have an adequate environmental management plan and won?t be caught out later? Do you need to hire a consultant to conduct a review or advise on remediation matters? How much in funds should you be setting aside annually to remediate your site? Are there other models from around the world that you should be considering? For example, could importing the spoil from major infrastructure projects, as Mount Coot-tha has done in Brisbane, be a viable option for topsoil application?
Should you be converting your quarry void to landfill? Is there scope for you to leave the quarry in a fashion that future generations can enjoy?
No one has ever made out that quarry rehabilitation and remediation is ever easy. Nevertheless, an effective environmental work plan means all the hard yards are being run now ? and it will make the site rehabilitation relatively painless compared to the angst and enormous expense that might have to be endured later.