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Supreme Court bid to overturn Adelaide Hills gold mine knockback

The state government is being taken to court for blocking a controversial bid to restart production at an historic Adelaide Hills gold mine.

Aug 02, 2023, updated Aug 02, 2023
Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Terramin announced this morning it has filed legal proceedings in the SA Supreme Court seeking a judicial review of Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis’s February refusal to let it revive the historic Bird in Hand gold mine near Woodside.

The site, about 2km from Woodside and around prime Hills vineyards, was the location of 17 gold mines that operated in the 1880s.

Terramin bought the 40-hectare dairy property in 2015 and applied for a mining lease and a miscellaneous purpose licence in 2019.

The proposed site of the Bird in Hand gold mine.

It planned to operate the gold mine for around five years but the project from start-up to completion would take eight years. Terramin said the mine would create 140 direct jobs and contribute $221 million to the state economy.

The bid to reactivate the mine was opposed by landholders and vineyards including Bird in Hand Winery and Petaluma Winery, citing potential impacts to groundwater among other concerns.

But the Department for Energy and Mining assessed the project after public consultation and said Terramin’s project satisfied all relevant regulatory requirements.

The assessment said that an estimated 10,500 tonnes of ore a month would have been trucked from the Woodside mine for processing at Terramin’s currently closed Angas Mine at Strathalbyn.

However, minister Koutsantonis vetoed the bid, saying he was “acutely aware” of local community concerns.

“The area of the proposed mine is home to a world-class viticulture industry, producing some of Australia’s best-loved wines,” he said on February 9.

“Tourism to the region is a critical contributor to the local economy and, on balance, there remains a possibility this proposed short-term mine may adversely affect the established and significant long-term agricultural and tourism industries of the Woodside area immediately adjacent the project areas.

“As such, I am not willing to risk these established local industries against the opportunity this short-term mine may provide, and have decided it is in the state’s interest to decline the Mining Lease and Miscellaneous Purposes Licence applications by Terramin for its Bird in Hand Gold Project.”

In an ASX announcement this morning, Terramin said it would be seeking a judicial review of Koutsantonis’ decision on the basis that he took into account “an irrelevant consideration”.

The company is also claiming it was not afforded procedural fairness.

“Terramin has filed legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of South Australia seeking judicial review of the refusal of the Applications and the making of the recommendations to the Governor,” the company said on the ASX.

“Terramin contends, amongst other things, that each decision should be set aside on the basis that the decisions misapprehended the statutory power in the Mining Act 1971 (SA), were legally unreasonable, did not take into account relevant considerations, took into account an irrelevant consideration, and that Terramin was not accorded procedural fairness.

“Terramin will issue updates as the matter progresses.”

A spokesman for Koutsantonis said the government stood by its decision.

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“Obviously we will not be providing comment on a matter before the courts, other than to say that the Government followed proper processes and we stand by our decision,” he said.

“We will vigorously defend ourself against this action.”

In 2020, Terramin lost a court bid to stop a $30m expansion of the Bird in Hand winery with a four-storey function centre, arguing the “huge development” would involve “excessive earthworks” and “unacceptable acoustic impacts”.

In 2019, Terramin said it was taking “severe action” against its legal firm Botten Levinson, after emails from the firm about sending legal notices to family members associated with the Bird In Hand winery were read out in state parliament.

Perth-based Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC), of which Terramin is a member, today said legal action over the failed gold mine bid was “the inevitable conclusion to a failed government approvals process”.

“It should never have come to this,” AMEC CEO Warren Pearce said.

“Terramin met all expectations in a lengthy and complex approvals process, with the recommendation to proceed by the Department, and ultimately blocked by the Minister.

“This project deserved to be approved, and its rejection was a very disappointing outcome for South Australia’s mining and mineral exploration industry.

“When a company complies with all Government processes and meets all requirements but is not allowed to proceed, then they should be fairly compensated for the significant investment they have made into developing that project.

“We don’t want to see this outcome reoccurring, so there is a strong need for a Government position to assure the industry it will not.”

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