By DI STANLEY
STARING down the barrel of over $12 billion ready to be invested in opening up to the Galilee Basin to coal mining, Alpha, population 350, is bracing for the onslaught of inevitable and massive change.
But Barcaldine Regional Council Mayor Rob Chandler is determined the township won't succumb to "mistakes made in the past with small communities and mining".
Hancock Prospecting last month announced its proposed $7.5 billion Alpha Coal project, with its potential to be the largest mine in Australia, had been given significant status by the State Government.
Waratah Coal's $5.7 billion plan to build a mine, rail line and port has hit a hurdle which landed it in court this week.
The company has revealed an exploration target in the range of 205 to 415 billion tonnes of coal in its Galilee Basin project, and successfully launched on the Australian Stock Market this week.
Miner AMCI is also proposing a mine on its exploration lease south of Alpha in the longer term.
Cr Chandler said a four-hour meeting with Deputy Premier Paul Lucas and representatives of the mining parties last Friday provided a solid framework for future discussions.
"It was very good to get that opportunity to meet& so if these mines proceed it is a really good opportunity to start from the bottom up and realise some of the mistakes made in the past with small mining communities," he said.
"It's also the chance to form a really good partnership between the mines, government and the council to bring Alpha from the bottom up and do it right from day one.
"This is vitally important because the Alpha community is already at maximum load when it comes to water and power and land availabiltiy.
"Even now, there's 350 people in Alpha and those three mining companies have probably 80-100 men in the district, so the population has increased by 30 per cent in just the exploration phase."
Mr Chandler said working with Queensland Health to attract a doctor to the town was council's most pressing concern. The Department of Natural Resources and Water will also be approached to expedite the release of land close to the town.
"Then we'd be looking to the mines to give us a hand with roads and water," Cr Chandler said.
"The graziers, whose roads are being used in the exploration for coal, are saying the roads were blown to bits in the floods last Christmas and haven't been brought back to standard.
"& Alpha Coal will probably be the biggest mine in Australia once they're up and the enormity is, they're talking in telephone numbers these blokes, so it is really mind-boggling.
"We really have to look closely at the consequences of mining in the area.
"We're struggling to maintain workforces as they are now in the Aramac, Barcaldine and Alpha areas, so I suppose there will be a huge drain of expertise going to the mines. "
After the meeting, Mr Lucas said he hoped stakeholders could work together to create positive changes for the area.
"Alpha is a place that if you like, is pre-mining boom, so if some of these Galilee Basin mines proceed, they will fundamentally change the landscape of Alpha and the important thing to do is work with all of the stakeholders for change in a positive sense," he added.
"I believe the mood is one of opportunity. Rob Chandler is a very positive mayor and I think they all see it as an a opportunity to say what can we do to improve and preserve this important lifestyle and make businesses more viable."
Waratah Coal was fighting its own battles in a Brisbane court this week with the company's lawyers telling the Federal Court Environment Minister Peter Garrett's decision to block a planned coal port and rail line in Central Queensland was invalid.
The court heard the minister failed to comply with legislation that requires a decision to be made within a 20-day period.
Mr Garrett rejected Waratah's proposal in September on the grounds it would destroy the ecological integrity of the Shoalwater Bay area.
Justice Berna Collier reserved her decision.
Hancock Prospecting's Alpha Coal project could generate up to 2500 jobs in peak construction and 1600 at full production over the planned 30-plus year lifespan of the mine.
It has established the Hancock Community Support Program in consultation with council.