PEGASUS Metals Limited says a mining exemption zone slapped over the Horizontal Waterfalls 250km north-east of Broome would have no effect on its McLarty Range Copper Project and exploration nearby would continue.
Last week, State Government Mines Minister Norman Moore imposed a “Section 19” 72sqkm exclusion zone immediately around the falls and part of the surrounds and nominated the site for the State Geoheritage register.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange on Monday, the company said the move did not affect tenure or access to the Bowerbird and Main Syncline prospect areas that were the main focus of its exploration. Pegasus had voluntarily relinquished its exploration licence application and two blocks of a granted exploration licence in the area, which the company already regarded as a “self-imposed buffer zone”.
Pegasus non-executive director Michael Fotios said the timing of Mr Moore’s announcement last week caught him by surprise, but he knew it was coming.
“We realise that clearly there are many groups who don’t want to see work around the Horizontal Falls – we haven’t worked around the Horizontal Falls and have no intention to do so,” he said. “We’ll be looking to conduct some more exploration at Bower Bird, which is outside the area to the west and the main syncline area to the east.”
Environmentalists have criticised the 72km exclusion zone as inadequate, as it still allows mining exploration activity within about 5km of the falls.
In 2011, Pegasus drew controversy by carrying out low-impact drilling works on a tenement about 4.3km north-west of the site with approval from the department.
Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard said the move was a “great first step” but allowing mining would be a “disaster for tourism and the environment”.
Greens MLC Robin Chapple MLC dismissed the exemption as a public relations stunt, pointing out that the State Government had funded Beau Resources to conduct minerals exploration on an adjacent patch of land in the same week.
The mining ban was only valid for two years before being reviewed, he said. However, Mr Moore said the West Kimberley site would now be afforded more protection than national park status.
Mr Fotios also pointed out that it could be years before a mine in the area was built: “We might not find anything – it truly is an exploration area,” he said. He dismissed claims a mine there would negatively affect tourism, saying any operation would be underground operation and largely obscured.
“There’s mining about 20km away at Cocktaoo and Koolan Island, which are big open cut iron ore mines … tourism operators fly over those mines as part of their tours, so clearly that seems to be an attraction of some sort,” he said.