Jun. 19 - CHINA-BACKED Sinosteel Midwest has ticked off another approval for its Western Australian iron ore operation but the project remains parked pending progression of the Oakajee port and rail development.
The Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority yesterday approved the $2 billion Weld Range project in the Mid-West region, set to produce around 15 million tonnes of iron ore annually for 11 years.
Despite the approval, Sinosteel said its project would not progress until proposals were finalised for the development plans, financial structure and commercial agreements of the Oakajee infrastructure.
Sinosteel Midwest announced in June it was shelving the project, which at the time cast doubt on the $6bn Oakajee port and rail infrastructure project.
The move to park the project sparked the downfall of Murchison Metals, which was meant to develop the infrastructure with its Japanese joint-venture partner, Mitsubishi.
Murchison was forced to sell its stake in OPR and its interest in the Crosslands iron ore company to Mitsubishi for $325 million, giving the Japanese giant full ownership of both projects.
Mitsubishi still needs a partner to fund the large infrastructure project, with Chinese backers the likely source.
Sinosteel, one of OPR's three foundation customers, withdrew from negotiations with the original OPR proponents last year because of what it identified as rising tariffs and and long delays with the development.
"As for investment in the port and rail project, these negotiations are not necessarily occurring or being decided at a local level," Sinosteel Midwest general manager Phil Allsopp said yesterday. "However, it is a significant investment decision, which requires the region to work co-operatively to attract major international investment, and we are all playing our part."
Sinosteel said at the time that despite delaying its iron ore project, it would press on with outstanding approvals.
"Sinosteel Midwest is pleased that this important next step in the environmental approval process is progressed," Mr Allsopp said. "Weld Range is our flagship project and although it is parked pending Oakajee port and rail development timelines, Sinosteel Midwest have always said we would continue the appropriate approvals required for the Weld Range project."
EPA chairman Paul Vogel said yesterday a diverse set of conditions, including offsets, had been applied to its approval of the mine, which allowed environmental objectives to be met.
"While there were no declared rare flora or threatened ecological communities in the project area, more than 3500ha of native vegetation, including part of a priority ecological community, will be cleared, so the conditions the EPA have recommended would ensure impacts to vegetation communities are limited," he said.
The state's environment minister will make a final decision after the public comment period.