The call to add over 6500 hectares of internationally significant heathland at Anglesea to the Great Otway National Park has landed on the desk of Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.
Geelong Environment Council and other nature conservation groups have written to Tony Burke requesting that the unused 6,480 hectare portion of Alcoa’s Anglesea Coal Mining Lease be added to the Great Otway National Park giving it protection for all time.
Alcoa’s open-cut brown coal mine at Anglesea is surrounded by botanically unique heathlands .
They are home to many different species such as the critically endangered New Holland mouse,
the rare white-footed dunnart
and swamp antechinus.
With 79 orchid species it is considered one of the most orchid-rich sites in Australia.
Despite requests to add the unused part of the mining lease to Great Otway National Park, in October last year, the state government re-leased 7,145 hectares of heathland back to Alcoa. The new 50 year lease took effect on 1st February this year.
The lease had been granted to Alcoa in 1961 by the Bolte government. This was to operate the open-cut mine and 150 megawatt power station to power Alcoa’s aluminium smelter 35 kilometres away at Pt Henry.
Only 665 hectares of the lease are planned for the current and future mining of coal. The rest is co-operatively managed between Alcoa, Parks Victoria and Department of Sustainability and Environment. Alcoa had sought the second 50 year term of its lease to provide the business certainty required to secure future investment in the Anglesea and Geelong Alcoa operations. However this does not secure the protection of the heathlands.
Earlier this year, Alcoa, which already receives government subsidies, was given a bail-out package of over $40 million. This was to help keep the Point Henry smelter operating in Geelong for at least two years.
Joan Lindros, President of GEC, believes the leased mine site and surrounding heathland could be sold to “the highest bidder”.
Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) also want National Park protection for Anglesea heathlands. Simon Branigan, VNPA Marine and Coastal Project Officer says that this would give the heathlands “…the highest level of protection…”
Anglesea power station is the smallest coal-fired power station in Victoria. According to Environment Victoria, it could be replaced with cleaner energy sources including renewable and gas.
At the time of this report there has been no comment from Minister Burke’s office.