If the Northern Territory’s mining town of Jabiru near Kakadu National Park is to stay afloat, decisions will need to be made soon to avoid the loss of essential services, infrastructure and people, a report commissioned by Energy Resources of Australia has warned.
ERA, which operates the Ranger Uranium mine, is planning for the expiry of its lease agreements in 2021.
The company is required to return the town of Jabiru, which is also a service hub for the national park, to its pre-development state, removing housing and critical infrastructure, including power and water services.
Jabiru, which has a population of about 1,100, was built in 1982 as a mining residential and service hub, and the majority of its residents, whether they work at the mine or not, live in the town.
Even if there’s a consensus that Jabiru should continue to exist, it’s not clear what services would remain, particularly if there’s a sharp population decline once ERA departs.
ERA on Tuesday released a summary of a report it commissioned on the social impact of that “base case” scenario.
The report said the removal of infrastructure from Jabiru could lead to the displacement of residents, a retraction of the regional economy, the loss of regional health, education, and retail services, the loss of critical infrastructure, and the closure of the Jabiru airport.
The closure of Jabiru was something almost everyone who was consulted wanted to avoid, the report said.
“There is broad community support, including from traditional owners, for Jabiru to have a future beyond 2021,” it stated.
No government agreement keeping residents in limbo
The entire mine area must be rehabilitated back into Kakadu National Park by 2021. (Rio Tinto/David Hancock, file photo: Reuters)
The NT and Federal Governments have been in talks with traditional owners, the Northern Land Council, and ERA about a plan for the future of the town, but have not yet reached an agreement.
Traditional owners have also been in talks with the Commonwealth about a new township lease over Jabiru.
In the absence of any final agreements, ERA was planning for the closure of the town in four years’ time.
“There is still uncertainty about the future, and while there may be a widely held view that Jabiru can have a future beyond 2021, it is not yet known what that might look like, what changes may take place or when,” said ERA CEO Andrea Sutton.
The current lease agreements require ERA to undertake various rehabilitation activities in the town, she said, which the company needed to plan for.
“The findings from the social impact assessment will help us understand the potential impacts and opportunities, provide for them in our plan where possible and support a smooth transition for Jabiru,” she said.
But the report said uncertainty over the future of the town was already having an impact, because people were not able to make decisions.
“Early decision-making will reduce the likelihood and extent of impacts associated with uncertainty,” it said.
In the past few years, the local bakery, hairdresser and a coffee shop have all been forced to close, with the baker’s owner saying he’d struggled to find a buyer for over a year due to banks’ reluctance to finance loans given the town’s uncertain future.
ERA’s lease on the Ranger Uranium Mine expires in 2021, and the rehabilitation of the Ranger Mine has to be completed by 2026.
ERA had proposed prolonging the life of the Ranger mine by developing the underground 3 Deeps project, but in 2015 that plan lost the support of traditional owners and Rio Tinto, the majority shareholder of ERA.