Located in the Laura basin about 150 kilometres northwest of Cooktown and next to the eastern shore of Princess Charlotte Bay, the Wongai project area in tenement EPC2334 was subject to considerable exploration by coal companies from the 1970s through to the 1990s.
This included work conducted by Utah Development Company which established key Bowen Basin coal infrastructure and towns in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
But a successful Native Title claim resulted in the Wongai project land being returned to the Kalpowar people, who approached Aust-Pac Capital in 2006 to investigate the feasibility of developing a coal mine.
A subsequent agreement was finalised and executed just over a month ago between APC, Kalpowar and neighbouring traditional landowners groups which will provide these indigenous communities with a free-carried interest.
The communities will also receive two APC board appointments, while the mine’s profits will go into a trust designed to fund education, environmental and housing needs.
Indigenous people are also expected to benefit from a training fund designed to maximise their job opportunities.
Detailed in an application seeking federal environmental clearance in late August, CQ Consulting Group said the mine was targeting only 1.5 million tonnes per annum to ensure the resources benefited future Kalpowar generations over a mine life exceeding 25 years.
Underground mining was chosen to lessen the disturbance to the land and nearby wetlands not considered to be of international importance, with the total footprint expected to cover 316 hectares including 34 hectares for barging routes and an associated marine environmental buffer.
The coal will be carried by a covered conveyor system to a barge loading facility under the proposal, as opposed to building rail infrastructure to transport the coal.
While the nearby deep waters present an opportunity for developing a long jetty to load ships directly by onshore conveyors, CCQ said barging technology had improved greatly in recent years and even met very strict environmental criteria in Europe.
As exploration over previous decades resulted in cleared land for accommodation camps, along with a legacy of tracks and an abandoned runway, these areas will be used to site most of the new infrastructure required for the proposed Wongai mine to minimise further environmental impacts.
CCQ did not discuss the target seams or depths of the proposed bord and pillar mine, however more detail is expected to be covered in the environmental impact statement for the project.
While the proponents expect few lasting impacts on fauna and flora in the region, Wilderness Society campaigner Glen Walker reportedly told the Cairns Post the Wongai project would be an “absolute environmental disaster”.
The environmentalist group is also opposing wider coal industry interest further south of this project and several national parks.
“There are 19 coal exploration tenements on Cape York Peninsula, with 12 applications being made in the past month-and-a-half alone,” Wilderness Society northern Australia campaigner Gavan McFadzean said.
“The area covered by coal exploration tenements is now 1,420,000 hectares – about seven times the size of Fraser Island.
“We will fiercely oppose any coal mining plans in the area and are calling for bi-partisan rejection of coal exploration permits and mining leases on Cape York Peninsula, from both Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and LNP [Liberal National Party] Leader Campbell Newman.”