Alpha, a small town of 350 people, is set to change when mining giant Waratah moves in.
Alpha, a small town of 350 people, is set to change when mining giant Waratah moves in.

The mines are coming to quiet Alpha

THE sleepy western Queensland town of Alpha is set to change, whether residents like it or not. Four massive coal mines will surround the rural settlement of 350 and according to Waratah Coal, benefits will only be realised if mine development is accompanied by carefully prepared and effectively co-ordinated development strategies.

Waratah's China First Project EIS indicated the social impact on the town would be determined by how effective the Barcaldine Regional Council's town plan was and as the company insisted, it would invest heavily in the community if one was laid out in front of it.

Waratah admitted there would be a range of both positive and negative effects on Alpha.

"The number of coal mines near a town, and the reliance on FIFO and DIDO workers, appear to be key factors determining the extent of social impacts," the EIS stated.

"This does not auger well for Alpha, a small town of 350 people with an expressed desire to maintain its rural lifestyle and not become a mining town.

"The development of mining in an area with minimal previous mining history will cause irreversible change to the physical landscape and the social fabric of towns."

However, the development of four mines in the vicinity of Alpha presented a unique opportunity for the town and surrounding communities to benefit from sustainable and socially acceptable development, it concluded.

Waratah has already committed to building 28 new homes in Alpha and is said to be offering incentives to employees who base themselves in town.

This will come as welcome news to Barcaldine Regional Council chief executive Des Howard, who is already feeling the pinch brought on by a lack of land availability and a sewerage, water and power system nearing capacity.

"We are already finding that people are struggling to house new employees when they lose one to the mines. That's a big issue," Mr Howard said.

"With the amount of support services set to come here, we need to look at where and how we are going to house these people."

He believed big partnerships were key to Alpha's sustainability.

"We are working with the government to free-up state land for development. And hopefully, there is some private land that can be developed too."

Both Waratah (through its EIS) and Mr Howard acknowledged the benefits of a royalties for regions concept being implemented in Queensland.

"Some form of funding from royalties needs to come back into the communities where the mining companies operate," Mr Howard said.

"A main concern is that it doesn't end up costing our ratepayers, we need to make sure it's not a burden on them."

The Waratah EIS concluded: "Timely development of Alpha should be a high priority for all parties involved in the development of coal mining in the Galilee Basin", a statement that is bound to be well-received by some in town.

Waratah Coal's Galilee Basin China First Project

Good Alpha Town Plan=

Relatively attractive place for families to live.

Substantial population increase.

Infrastructure and services improvements.

Average income levels rise.

Above factors will contribute to vitality and sense of community in Alpha.

Bad Alpha Town Plan=

Increased traffic coupled with fatigue = increased pressure on emergency services.

Shortage of accommodation and staff to fill positions outside the mining industry.

Range of social and welfare issues, including alcohol and drug abuse.

Skyrocketing land prices and a shortage of accommodation.

Disenchanted local community.

The Facts:

$8.3billion in capital investment required.

About 30km north of Alpha.

First coal exports targeted for July 2013.

Full export capacity of 40Mtpa to be reached in 2015/16.

Four 9Mtpa underground long wall coal mines.

Two 10Mtpa open cut pits.

About $4.6b in export revenue a year.

Some goods and services to be procured locally.

Invest in development of local road infrastructure.

Upgrade Alpha airstrip for transportation of FIFO workers.

New rail line connecting mine to Abbott Point in the Whitsundays.

1.4billion tonnes of raw coal.

Two coal preparation plants with raw washing capacity of 28Mtpa.

58Mtpa of ROM coal to produce 40 Mtpa of saleable export coal.

447km of single gauge rail line plus two loops either side.

Construction employment:

2500 at the mine over three years.

1000 for the rail infrastructure over three years.

Operational employment:

1900 at the mine.

460 for operation/maintenance of rail infrastructure.

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