Friends of Big Hill air mine concerns

DUST, noise and health issues were the primary concerns raised at a public meeting on the proposal to open-cut mine Stawell landmark Big Hill.

The newly-formed Friends of Big Hill called the meeting on Wednesday at Stawell Entertainment Centre.

The group is hoping to gather momentum in its campaign against Stawell Gold Mines' proposal.

Group member Wendy Melbourne said about 150 residents attended the meeting, with many taking the opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions.

"The other main issue is that people don't want the hill to go," Mrs Melbourne said. "People came from all over the town, not just Fisher Street, because they are worried. I knew the support would be there."

Mrs Melbourne said the group encouraged residents to write to Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who is yet to answer the mine's environmental effects statement referral.

"As far as we're concerned, the amount of jobs that will be lost is insignificant compared to the amount of people who will be affected by it if the open-cut mine goes ahead," she said.

"I don't think any amount of jobs could compensate for what will happen if it goes ahead. People's lives will be ruined."

Mrs Melbourne said residents were also concerned about attracting other industries to Stawell to counteract Stawell Gold Mines' winding down of operations by the end of the year.

"We do want the council to try to attract more business to Stawell," she said.

Mayor Wayne Rice, who was at the meeting, said council was looking at a range of options, including trying to establish an underground mine training facility, establishing Stawell as a fly-in, fly-out base for mine workers, boosting tourism and advocating for the re-establishment of trade schools in the region.

"I was really disappointed by the fact that people don't seem to know how much work council has been doing to try to attract new industry and new residents to the Northern Grampians Shire," he said.

"One man asked why we don't buy land and give it away to new businesses to encourage them to the shire. Council would love to do that, but we just don't have the money. The money comes from rates. Does he want us to put everyone's rates up so we can raise an extra couple of million dollars?"

Cr Rice said the meeting's leaders made it clear they were against the mine.

"The people who are negative against it are quite noisy, but there are many people who don't feel comfortable vocalising their position and it would be interesting to see how many of them are for the proposal," he said.

"My position is the same now as it has been from the start wait until you have all of the information before making your decision.

"Council cannot make a decision one way or the other until the matter comes before us. If we were to come out publicly and say we were for it or against it, the minister could take the decision out of our hands. "

Mrs Melbourne said copies of minutes from the meeting would be available from Stawell Library and shire customer service.