By ERWIN CHLANDA
Residential real estate investors – bowling club, Melanka, drive-in, Aurora, Kilgariff – may be banking on the proposed salt mine 120 kms south of town, but it clearly still is in the ‘so close and yet so far’ category.
The environmental impact statement for the mine (diagram at right) planned by Tellus Holdings Ltd is still a work in progress, until at least the end of the year, and so the approval of the venture (google several reports on this site) remains uncertain.
On the positive side, the deposit is massive, similar in volume to Ayers Rock (above and below ground), and the salt is of a very high quality.
And secondly, the excavated portions of the mine can be used for storage.
According to the Tellus website, the deposit is 309 million tonnes which equates to a 525 year mine life, producing 500,000 tonnes a year and “scale up on demand”. There will be 280 to 350 construction jobs, 180 operational positions and “indirect” employment of 540 to 720.
If statutory approval is given money for the venture still needs to be raised.
And then there is no certainty that any staff – construction and subsequently, operational – will live in Alice Springs as location and nature of the mine has all the hallmarks of a FiFo operation.
The prognosis by the managing director of Tellus, Duncan van der Merwe, is strong on good intentions but short of assurances: “Should the project go ahead, it’s likely to be two years before we start work on construction,” he says.
“Our priority will be to maximise local benefits, such as jobs and local procurement.
“Ideally, we will get workers from communities such as Titjikala (pictured at left) and Alice Springs. The next best option would be to recruit workers and their families to live in Alice Springs, so they are contributing to the local community and economy.
“After that, we would have to use a fly in fly out workforce. Given the experience of other businesses trying to recruit locally, we expect a significant proportion of the workforce will be fly in fly out, particularly during the construction phase.
“However, being a long-life mine, there will be plenty of opportunities to gradually train people and encourage them to consider a career with the mine.”
Mr van der Merve says Tellus is doing feasibility studies on road options: “Safety is the highest priority.
“It is unlikely that people would commute daily from Alice Springs to jobs at the mine. It is more likely – and would be safer – for them to be bussed in to live at an accommodation camp then return to Alice Springs at the end of their shifts.
“Our social impact assessment is looking at these issues.
“We are trying to establish the most likely workforce and accommodation scenarios, how to reduce negative impacts and maximise the positive opportunities that will flow from being a major employer in Central Australia.”
A spokesman for Minister David Tollner said: “The Territory Government and Tellus Holdings are committed to working together to maximise the local benefits of the project, including training, employment, business and Indigenous development opportunities.
“The issue of where employees live during the construction and operation of the mine will be a matter for Tellus Holdings and its workforce.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA