Councillor “sceptical” of Eden Project Anglesea

February 3, 2024 12:11 pm in by
Alcoa's former open cut mine where the Eden Project is looking to establish and eco-tourism site.

A Surf Coast Shire councillor says he has doubts about stalled plans for a $150 million eco-tourism park at Alcoa’s former coal mine in Anglesea.

For five years Alcoa and the UK-based Eden Project have spruiked an environment park as the future of the site, once its power generation and mining legacy is rehabilitated, but there’s been little mention of the project over the last 12-months.

Anglesea ward Councillor Mike Bodsworth is now openly questioning whether it should go ahead, saying its scope is far too big for the location and region, and he’s also sceptical as to how parts of the rehabilitation process are tracking.

Article continues after this ad

“There are a lot like me who are wary of the proposal and definitely question the need, probably very, very sceptical about their being a need for it,” he said.

“If you’re talking about an attraction that brings in say 3-5000 people on busy days, or around 3000 people a day average, then that’s the population of Anglesea.

Surf Coast deputy mayor Mike Bodsworth says he’s got serious doubts about the Eden Project (FACEBOOK).

“As a lot of locals already know there are significant traffic challenges around Anglesea, I find it hard to not see those getting worse.”

The state government has consistently been an enthusiastic backer of the project, that will purportedly create over 1,300 new jobs and generate $350 million for the region with ten years.

Article continues after this ad

Eden Project’s vision of the site is to “transform an area within the former coal mine into a destination for immersive education and experiences which celebrate the local ecology and tell a story of sustainability,” however at this stage it’s still mostly a concept that exists online.

Plans are yet to be submitted to the state government, and regular consultation sessions between Alcoa, Eden Project representatives and the community stopped during the pandemic.

It’s for this reason that Cr Bodsworth, who also serves as the deputy mayor of the Surf Coast Shire, says he was “disappointed” to see recent media reports suggesting the project was progressing.

“Not so much on council’s behalf, although I guess there’s that too, but particularly on the communities behalf,” he said.

Cr Bodsworth says neither he, council or the community have received a meaningful update about the project within months.

Article continues after this ad

“I think the community should be kept absolutely up to date with any development proposals,” he said.

Acidity levels in the Anglesea River has prompted warning signs from the Surf Coast Shire.

Eden had said its taking over of the site was contingent on Alcoa at-least half-filling its former mine void with water by 2024, but it’s remained below 20 per cent full for years and it’s not yet clear where a sustainable resource to continue topping it up will come from.

Eden has since said water levels are no longer a deal breaker for them, but Cr Bodsworth says he has serious doubt over how the void will be filled given Alcoa has indicated it wishes to continue pumping ground water to fill it.

In 2021 Alcoa conducted a pumping test to measure potential impacts on groundwater, and says the results cleared it of any concerns future draw downs may have.

Article continues after this ad

“The Alcoa pumping test was successfully completed during 2021 and no adverse impacts were identified on groundwater dependent ecosystems, including the Anglesea River or other users,” an Eden Project spokesperson said, echoing what Alcoa has consistently stated.

Cr Bodsworth is sceptical, as are many in the community.

“It would certainly not be true to say there’s no evidence of harm to groundwater dependent eco-systems, one of which is the Anglesea River,” he said.

The community led Friends of Anglesea River (FOAR) group believe Alcoa’s near 50-decades of pumping groundwater from an aquifer for use in its power station has depleted regions water table, and that’s linked to the waterways poor health that includes a near three-year absence of aquatic life due to high acidity.

Alcoa denies the claim, and the state government has consistently avoided responding to a leading academics paper supporting FOAR’s hypothesis, but Cr Bodsworth and council believe it’s plausible.

“I don’t necessarily take Alcoa’s word for it, because Alcoa’s role has really switched to something like a land developer these days,” he said.

Article continues after this ad

“They’ve done a fantastic job with rehabilitation, but it needs to be recognised they own over 140 hectares of freehold land and they’re looking to develop that.

“There’s an obvious interest there around use of the groundwater for use of those development proposals.”

Eden says it remains committed to the project, and is “enthusiastic about its potential,” but has not said if or when it would restart regular consultations with the community or council and declined an interview request from Geelong Broadcasters.

“The Eden Project is currently in the process of evaluating the best way forward for the proposed project….we hope to provide further updates later this year,” the spokesperson said.