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Council committed to planning for the closure of Cowal gold mine

Bland Shire Council has reinforced its commitment to developing a long term strategy to prepare the community for the closure of the Lake Cowal mine following the release of the Barrick Cowal Gold Mine Social Impact Assessment (SIA) report tonight.

The report, which was commissioned by Barrick Gold, examines the social impact of the Barrick Cowal gold mine on the Bland Shire and surrounding communities and the potential implications of the mine’s closure.

Bland Shire Council General Manager, Ray Smith, said Council has closely examined the SIA and is working with Barrick Gold to respond to the recommendations and issues identified in the report.

The report recommends that Barrick “initiate a strategic communication forum with local, NSW and Australian Government elected representatives to support an ongoing dialogue on the potential social impacts of Barrick Cowal gold mine’s closure”.

While the community has been buoyed by news that Barrick has received approval to operate the mine until 2024, which was announced after the compilation of the report, Mr Smith said it is imperative that Council and other key stakeholders start planning now for the inevitable closure of the mine.

Earlier this year, Council wrote to the State Government requesting assistance to develop strategies for after the Cowal gold mine closes and was stunned to receive a reply from Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner describing the request as “premature”.

“Given that the eventual closure of the Cowal gold mine is at least five years away, the Council’s request for support for a social impact statement pertaining to the mine’s closure is premature and currently outside the Department’s focus on projects creating jobs and investment for the Bland Shire,” Mr Stoner informed Council.

Despite the lack of State Government support to date, Mr Smith said Council has already implemented a number of key initiatives to plan for the Bland Shire’s future post the Cowal gold mine.

At its monthly meeting on August 19, Council resolved to form a Lake Cowal Gold Mine Closure Advisory Committee to advise Council on the implications contained within the SIA. The terms of reference for the committee along with the minutes of the inaugural meeting held on September 18 were formally endorsed at an extraordinary meeting of Council tonight. A Memorandum of Understanding is also being prepared by Barrick Gold representatives to identify its role on the committee.

The Gold Mine Closure Committee has already identified future agenda items including real estate in West Wyalong, farmland surrounding the mine, economic and workforce impacts and general economic impact – which are all addressed in the SIA.

According to the report, in quantitative terms 10 per cent of the Bland Shire’s current labour force would be left unemployed by the sudden closure of the mine and in turn the local population would likely decline and local business, particularly retail and accommodation providers, would feel significant effects.

Mr Smith said the Closure Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the whole of Council, will seek to address each of these issues as well as the other potential negative impacts identified in the report as a result of the closure of the mine.

Council also recently announced plans to build a war chest to attract new investment, industry and employment opportunities to the Shire by allocating up to 50 per cent of the mining rates collected from Barrick into a special new reserve for economic development.

The reserve will be used to fund and explore initiatives to help the Bland Shire community absorb, survive and prosper past the eventual closure of the mine as well as any future changes to the agriculture industry.

Council also adopted a recent recommendation from the Bland Shire Visitor Economy and Tourism Advisory Committee to develop short, medium and long term plans for tourism in the Bland Shire.

Specific strategies for the closure of the mine will further be developed when Council reviews its 10 year Community Strategic Plan in 2015 and all members of the community will be invited to have input as part of the preceding community consultation process.

Meanwhile, to assist with the planning process, Council has invited a senior representative from Barrick Gold to address the November Council workshop on the likely implications arising from the SIA report.

The Barrick Cowal Gold Mine Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is now available on Council’s website at www.blandshire.nsw.gov.au . Limited copies are also available at Council’s Shire Street offices.