Forrest’s Minderoo Group aquifer plans rejected
Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Group is shaping up for a scrap with the Shire of Ashburton after councillors refused a construction permit for a worldfirst groundwater replenishment project involving the Ashburton River on Minderoo Station.
Minderoo Group submitted an application to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to build 10 upsidedown “leaky weirs” along the river in an effort to boost groundwater recharge for existing agricultural use.
The Shire of Ashburton has rejected the plan, citing concerns, including the impact on Aboriginal culture and lack of information, and has vowed to defend its decision should Minderoo appeal.
Minderoo head of investment John Hartman said his company would appeal the Shire’s decision.
Mr Hartman said he was surprised the Shire had refused a construction permit, given its planning and technical officers had indicated support.
“By recharging the aquifers, that enables us to use bores for pastoral activities across the 240,000ha station,” he said.
“It enables us to improve drought mitigation on the property and provide water to cattle year round.
“That also opens up other opportunities which could be a benefit, such as irrigated fodder production and irrigated horticulture.” Mr Hartman said most Shires would welcome job-creating industries.
The submission indicates potential impact to one reported Aboriginal heritage place, the Ashburton River.
“We have on many occasions over the past five years attempted to explain the project to the traditional owners, but some of those responsible for management of their interest have unfortunately not afforded us the opportunity to do that,” Mr Hartman said.
Minderoo has an existing indigenous land-use agreement allowing use of the land for agricultural purposes.
In a submission to the Shire, a Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation spokesperson said the Ashburton River was integral to ceremonial activities.
A BTAC spokesman said approving the application would be premature, given the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Committee was proposing a review of the river’s status.
A Shire of Ashburton spokeswoman said the council found Minderoo failed to provide sufficient information on potential impacts to recreation, tourism, flora and fauna, stream flows, sand migration, and downstream water bodies.
BTAC chief executive Matthew Slack did not respond to requests for comment.