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Giving Victorian approvals the Mitas touch

 

A sand quarry has been approved 21km from Ararat, Victoria, and a familiar face in Australian quarrying has shared his learnings after a lengthy approvals process.  

The sand quarry will provide local jobs for the region and is well placed to supply sand for the East Grampians Rural Pipeline Project and other regional infrastructure projects.

On 7 September, 2018, John Mitas – a Past President of the Institute of Quarrying Australia (IQA) and the managing director of his own business John Mitas Consulting – attended an initial site meeting with government agencies, the local council and his client and future quarry owner Darren House of Darbay Pty Ltd.

Three years and three weeks later, on 30 September, 2021, Mitas and House received the planning approval from the Ararat Rural City Council for the 450,000 cubic metre sand resource.

Mitas shared a few factors he believed the industry should be aware of when applying for similar permits which revolve around careful site selection.

“If you have a quarry proposal which involves clearing significant native vegetation, you need to be aware there is a trigger for an EES (environmental effects statement) referral to the Minister for Planning and also that the removed vegetation needs to be offset which can be costly,” Mitas said.

“Initially we offset some vegetation on site and then also purchased some offsets on some private land, plus we’re currently considering using Bush Broker, the government’s vegetation offsets market.”

Another hurdle to be considered was the cultural heritage management plan (CHMP).

“If you can avoid doing a complex CHMP, that would also help out because that’s another time-consuming and expensive process,” Mitas said.

“Both of these assessments need to be done by experts and the flora and fauna surveys even have to be done at the right time of year.”

Mitas also added that a site having a significant distance between quarry and neighbours would go a long way to streamlining the process and to demonstrate that the impacts from the quarry operations are minimised and reduced to acceptable levels.

“In our case, the site is at least 530m from the nearest neighbour,” he said. “With an adequate buffer zone, things like dust and noise that can impact on the community can be managed more easily.”

Engaging stakeholders

To further manage any potential complaints received about the quarry and its 24-year reserves, Mitas went about things a little differently in his role as a consultant.

He said he and his client engaged with the community early in the process, which differs from the usual approach.

“We had all of the neighbours on site before we applied for the permit, explained to them what the project was about, what the impacts would be on them and the benefits of the quarry to the region,” Mitas said.

On the process of work plan approvals, environmental effects statements, and planning permits, Mitas said there is room for improvement.

He said he had been asked to contribute to the ongoing review of the work plan process by the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, and the occurrence of duplicate requirements was an issue.

“The objectives of the endorsed work plan are to assist councils in their planning permit approvals; to assist proponents to comply with work plan requirements throughout an operation; and for the Regulator to have documentation they can enforce across the state,” Mitas explained.

“If you look at these three objectives, there is room to improve in relation to the structure of that endorsed work plan and how it helps councils with their planning permit application.

“In our case, it wasn’t helpful a lot. I had to sit down with the council a number of times and take them through several technical issues we had already dealt with in the endorsed work plan to make them understand and feel comfortable enough to issue a planning permit without conditions that duplicate the issues covered in the endorsed work plan.”

The endorsed work plan relies on an electronic portal on the Department’s website where a proponent will enter all its relevant studies and information for assessment.

Once this has been assessed, the portal issues the endorsed work plan, including a host of documents to take to the council.

Mitas said the resulting documentation is far too much for any council to have to consider.

“From my perspective, what the portal spits out is too complicated and a lot of councils just get lost in the technical details of it,” he said.

“This is why sitting down with them and getting them over the line is important.”

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