Drill & Blast

Operator questions ?inconsistent? extractive rules

The MCG Group and its subsidiary MCG Quarries (MCGQ) own a basalt stone quarry at Mooleric Road, in Ombersley, 45km west of Geelong and 108km southwest of Melbourne. MCG Quarries is currently awaiting sign-off from the local shire council to officially begin operations at the 64ha site.

{{Image2-A:R-W:200}}The development application (DA) for Ombersley Quarry was originally refused by the Colac Otway Shire Council in 2014. After MCGQ lodged an appeal, Victorian Minister for Planning Richard Wynne called in the DA at the request of the council.

The minister’s approval finally came in early June 2017, subject to a total of 87 conditions.

MCGQ project manager Adam Green has told Quarry the business submitted documents to the Colac Otway Shire Council in June that addressed the conditions to mitigate dust, traffic, noise, surface water, groundwater, vibration, blasting, road design, rehabilitation and landscaping. MCGQ has reportedly received feedback from the council on four conditions, with the remaining 83 outstanding.

“MCG have no issue with the very high standards required by the Colac Otway Shire Council that are designed to protect the environment and neighbours,” Green said.

“It is just difficult for the proponents of extractive industry projects to accept the situation when the same rules and requisites do not apply to all projects.”

Commenting on MCGQ’s application, Colac Otway Shire Council development and community services general manager Gareth Smith told Quarry that of the 87 permit conditions the council is responsible for assessing, 17 required additional information to be submitted by the applicant and that council was “prioritising its assessment of the conditions”.

“Given the technical nature of some of the information required to address a number of the permit conditions, Council has engaged independent experts. Several of the conditions also require Council to refer to, or liaise with, other statutory authorities,” Smith added.

Approvals at odds

The 87 consent conditions imposed on Ombersley Quarry include limiting it to five laden trucks per hour and for MCGQ to upgrade Mooleric Road to a 100 kilometre per hour standard.

However, shortly before the substantive hearings for Ombersley Quarry in late 2016, the minister also approved a traffic management plan for the nearby Mount Gellibrand wind farm to import earth resources along Mooleric Road at an unrestricted rate and without requiring its operators to upgrade the road to the same 100km per hour standard. In correspondence with the minister’s office, MCGQ has pointed out that this approval effectively permitted the wind farm operators to haul quarry materials along the road at a rate four to six times that of Ombersley Quarry.

The quarry operator has also politely questioned why BMD Constructions – one of the construction contractors tasked with building Stage 3 of the nearby Winchelsea to Colac duplication project – has been allowed to extract materials from nearby borrow pits.

{{Image3-A:L-W:200}}Green emphasised that MCGQ’s objection is not with either operator but rather the Colac Otway Shire Council’s “seemingly inconsistent assessment of extractive industries in the shire”.

“Some of the borrow pits proposed by BMD [are exempt from a] mineral extraction licence under the [Victorian] Mineral Resources [Sustainable Development] Act,” he added. “However, this exemption does not remove their need to be assessed as extractive industry developments under the Colac Otway Shire Planning Scheme.

“Our objections to [BMD’s] borrow pits are solely based on the manner in which the council has assessed these extractive industry activities compared to their manner of assessment of our proposed extractive industry development.”

Commenting on why these other extractive activities had permits issued without meeting the same conditions that have been required of the quarry application, the council’s Smith said, “The conditions on both the Acciona wind farm and the Mooleric Road quarry planning permits were imposed by the State Government, not Council.

“[Furthermore], Council has issued two notices of decision (NoD) to grant a permit to BMD for borrow pits associated with the highway duplication. A NoD is not a planning permit.”

According to Green, the council has since approved numerous borrow pits in the region without the types of intensive studies MCGQ was required to do.

“Council even approved one application for three borrow pits on the same property without surface water modelling or studies on species within the site or the surrounding area when in places these borrow pits are only 120m from Birregurra Creek,” he said.

By comparison, Ombersley Quarry encompasses ten existing groundwater monitoring bores on-site and MCGQ is required to complete extensive surface water modelling, even though the site is located more than 2.5km from Birregurra Creek.

Smith told Quarry there were ‘significant’ differences between the borrow pits and the basalt quarry applications.

“The Mooleric Road quarry site is 64 hectares, versus just a few hectares for the borrow pits,” he said.

“Extraction for the quarry will involve blasting, [while] there is no blasting required for clay extraction. Extraction at the quarry will go under the water table, [while] clay extraction for the borrow pits will not go as deep as groundwater level.

“[Furthermore], the quarry activities are proposed to run for decades [where as] the clay extraction would take place for a maximum of around two years. The quarry operators will rely on local road for access [but the] material from borrow pits would be taken direct onto the highway being duplicated”.

Ready and waiting

The work authority for the quarry covers 64ha and there is approximately 25 million tonnes of in-situ resource. The current conditions restrict Ombersley Quarry to an annual output of 200,000 tonnes per year.

{{Image4-A:R-W:200}}Green said Ombersley Quarry, once operational, could employ between five and 30 people, depending on demand. “If all was equal, the quarry should be permitted to extract at an unrestricted rate on a temporary basis to supply the highway and then drop back to the 200,000 tonne rate thereafter,” he added. “If this was the case, the site would employ 30 people.”

He confirmed that MCGQ is being “continually approached by contractors” keen to submit tenders for Stage 3 of the duplication project. Should MCGQ not be able to supply materials, Green added, the contractors will then need to source and price them from as far as 120km away. This will add significant cost to the taxpayer-funded project.

“There is simply not sufficient permitted resources to supply significant construction projects at present without the need to haul material long distances,” he said. “Yet Ombersley Quarry is only 2.4km from the highway project.”

Green was asked why he thought there was still a delay to the council’s sign-off of Ombersley Quarry’s consent conditions.

“I feel there is a significant delay due to legal pressure from a number of objectors and their representatives, and internal pressure from councillors who voted against the proposal in 2014,” he said. “I feel these combined factors are in effect preventing council from making rational, effective and timely decisions about the quarry development which they have the ability and power to do under the [Victorian] Planning and Environment Act 1987.”

In accounting for the delay, which includes the Colac Otway Shire Council consulting with experts and statutory authorities on some of the permit conditions, Gareth Smith’s responses to Quarry did not imply there was an improper intent to the council’s practice.

“This application is of significant interest to the community and accordingly Council has a major responsibility to both the community and the applicant to ensure the conditions are appropriately addressed,” Smith told Quarry.

Established in 2002 and headquartered in Brisbane, MCG Group is an Australian owned and operated resource development, civil construction, mining and quarrying company. Its subsidiary MCG Quarries operates four quarries in Queensland and two in Victoria.

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