Blow for Irwins in reserve mining row

THE company fighting Terri Irwin over the right to mine land on Cape York says it has won approval from the land's traditional owners to explore about 15,000 hectares.

Cape Alumina Limited said the agreement with Mapoon Trustees was the fourth exploration agreement between the company and representatives of the Aboriginal communities in the western Cape York region over the past four years.

CEO Paul Messenger said the agreement covered the detail of how the firm planned to continue exploring for bauxite and how it would conduct operations in Cape York.

Earlier this month, Queensland's Land Court ruled that Cape Alumina was entitled to access a portion of the 135,000-hectare Bertiehaugh Station leased by the family of the late Crocodile Hunter.

Test drilling for the company's Pisolite Hills Project has revealed a bauxite deposit of more than 100 million tonnes, and it hopes to mine more than seven million tonnes a year from the site, starting in 2011.

Dr Messenger said by signing the agreement, Cape Alumina had undertaken to respect the rights and interests of traditional owners, undertake environmental management and rehabilitation, and protect local cultural heritage during planned exploration activities.

"I believe this new agreement is an endorsement of the company's approach to important issues such as cultural heritage, Aboriginal employment and environmentally sound exploration practices," he said.

Irwin family company Silverback Properties purchased the land with the help of a $6.3 million Federal government grant after the Crocodile Hunter's death in 2006.

Cape Alumina holds two exploration permits for land within the station, which is now known as the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve.

The company needs to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) before it can apply for a mining licence from the Queensland government.

Terri Irwin has vowed to stop mining in the area, which she says is home to vulnerable animal and plant species.

Dr Messenger conceded the new deal with the land's traditional owners did not extend to mining.

"Separate negotiations, which are currently underway between the trustees, relevant family groups and Cape Alumina, will need to be finalised before any mining activity can be contemplated."

Cape Alumina has also made a commitment in the agreement to provide some employment for traditional owners when undertaking Aboriginal Cultural Heritage surveys and also during exploration work.

The company will employ traditional owners to deliver a short Cultural Awareness Training course to employees involved in the exploration work, and to educate them about important issues for owners.

Australia Zoo did not respond to the Daily's request for comment.

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