Due to a lack of planning, the Latrobe Valley community say they are left clueless about what will happen with the Hazelwood mine rehabilitation after its closure last month. Engie, the French company who owns the mine, plan on transforming it into a lake, but this method faces contamination problems.
Public documents involving rehabilitation planning have been released by Engie, which cover potential methods such as creating a lake. Environmental and mining experts said that filling the mine with water will turn it into a “pit lake” where the water quality will force the mine to be fenced off to the public. Locals are calling for the Australian government to step in and ensure that a reliable restoration plan is implemented for the mine.
Leaving the coal uncovered could lead to a similar incident to the 2014 mine fires that resulted in severe health hazards after the release of toxic fumes caused by exposed coal. Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at RMIT University, Dr. Gavin Mudd said the fire changed everything and raises the need for an appropriate rehabilitation plan.
“I don’t think we can justify leaving the coal exposed forever,” said Dr. Mudd.
Regarding the overburden, Dr. Mudd said that the mine couldn’t be backfilled due to the coal to dirt ratio and that the backfill should be used to cover the exposed coal. “You’re always going to be left with a pit in the ground.”
He said that this left the community with the question of what do they want the mine to become. “We’ve waited to the very day that Hazelwood gets turned off to start asking this question,” said Dr. Mudd. Member of Voices of the Valley, and member of the community for over 40 years, Marianne Robinson, said this question should be carefully considered with the people of the Latrobe Valley in mind.
She said mining has been embedded into the Latrobe Valley’s culture and history.
“We just take it for granted that if there’s a power station you have to go around it,” said Mrs Robinson. She said she believed the privatisation of the mine in 1996 caused a massive job loss, but now Engie were causing a loss of jobs, opportunity, and identity in the community.
Hazelwood power station after its closure.
Mrs. Robinson said she hoped the community, in conjunction with the state government, would start planning different strategies with employment. Morwell, a town in the Latrobe Valley, has one of the worst employment rates in the country. Dr. Mudd said Rehabilitating the mine could be a start to this economic problem, providing the community with jobs.
“We’ve waited too long for the knight and he’s not coming,” said Mrs. Robinson.