NORTHERN Grampians Shire Council has given in-principle support for Stawell Gold Mines' plans to mine landmark Big Hill.
Council voted to support the Big Hill Enhanced Development Project in principle at Monday night's council meeting in St Arnaud.
The decision was subject to the completion of further impact assessment studies and a clear demonstration by Stawell Gold Mines that the community, environmental and economic benefits clearly outweighed any detrimental impacts.
Six councillors voted in favour of the motion, with Cr Karen Hyslop voting against.
Cr Hyslop said she had reservations about the open cut proposal, which she would outline at a later time.
Cr Paul Russell said although he had only lived in the area a brief time it was obvious the gold mine had invested a significant amount of money in the shire.
He said councillors and senior council staff received a tour of the mine and the Big Hill area on Wednesday.
"I was blown away by the size of it and the amount of work that's been done," Cr Russell said.
"The proposal to open cut Big Hill is similar to previous ones, but there are quite a few obvious differences this time, including the rehabilitation of the area."
It is the second application to open cut mine Big Hill.
In 2001 the State Government rejected the mine's Big Hill Development Project after an extensive Environmental Effects Statement process and intense community division.
A report to council by Northern Grampians chief executive Justine Linley said the current proposal would create between 80 and 100 jobs. It would consist of two open pits and the mine's owner, Crocodile Gold, planned to process 2.3 million tonnes of ore.
The company expects the project, including extensive rehabilitation, to be completed within four or five years.
Rehabilitation plans include completely filling the open pits and reinstating Big Hill with native vegetation.
Rehabilitation also includes developing a plan to approve the amenity to surrounding properties, because planners expect the open space created will attract visitors and residents.
Cr Russell said he expected the proposal would divide the Stawell community once more.
"I understand there will be some people in the community in favour of this project, there will be some people opposed to it and there will be some who will be heavily impacted a lot more than other people, but I think that as a council we have to do what's best for the entire area," he said.
Mayor Wayne Rice echoed Cr Russell's statements.
"Some people are going to go through some very, very difficult times and I certainly feel very sorry for those people," he said.
"But at the end of the day, we don't want to put the whole shire through hardship."
Cr Rice said the closure of the Stawell Gold Mine, which is due to wind up operations by the end of 2013, would have a flow-on effect on associated industries in the shire.
"We need to take this into account. We have to learn how to live without the mine. It will happen sooner rather than later we know that day is not very far away now," he said.
"Say to yourself, 'I might have to suffer a little bit. It's going to be very, very tough, but what's going to be the best outcome for the shire at the end of the day?'"
Cr Rice urged residents to attend a community consultation session.
"I ask the community to be fully informed before making a decision," he said.
"I know it's very hard to go along to these matters and leave emotion out of it, because if your home - which is your biggest single asset - is in any way threatened, then you can't help but get emotional.
"I ask the community to go to the community consultation sessions, hear what's being said and weigh up at the end of the day what is going to be best for Northern Grampians Shire."
Cr Rice said sessions would be at Stawell RSL on February 16 from 11am to 3pm and on February 20 from 5pm to 8pm.