Fortescue Metals is a step closer to the start of construction on the Iron Bridge expansion project, having received conditional approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Iron Bridge will be located 110 kilometres south-southeast of Port Hedland.
EPA chairman Dr Paul Vogel said the Iron Bridge proposal was examined at a public environmental review, and assessed against several key criteria including flora and vegetation, terrestrial fauna, subterranean fauna, hydrological processes and inland waters environmental quality and offsets.
According to Vogel, the extensive assessment had found the Iron Bridge proposal could be managed to meet the EPA’s objectives for each of these factors subject to a suite of 17 strict conditions.
“This is a large mine with a long life expectancy so the EPA has recommended seventeen rigorous conditions to minimise and mitigate any potential environmental impacts,” Vogel said.
One of the conditions of approval relates to the protection of, among a number of other species, a 250-strong colony of Pilbara Leaf-Nosed Bats, which are classed as a threatened species
“The EPA has also recommended the implementation of the proposal does not affect the viability of the Pilbara Leaf-nosed Bat through a Mine Exclusion Zone around a regionally significant roost cave,” Vogel said.
“Mine construction and operational activities will also need to ensure that impacts to the Northern Quoll will be minimised.
“Fauna-rescue personnel will also be required to clear trapped fauna in open trenches at least twice daily.”
Ongoing mine production is estimated to take seven years to reach the exclusion zone around the bat colony’s cave, by which time Vogel expects that FMG will have developed an action plan to continue to protect or move the bats.
"There's a mine exclusion zone and we need them [Fortescue Metals] to determine over the next seven years whether a substantial portion of the population can be relocated to a new cave,” Vogel told the ABC.
"They do have sufficient time to build up knowledge about how those bats can be protected and if can they be successfully translocated.
"If they can, and they can prove that to the satisfaction of the regulators, then FMG can request access to that resource.
"If they can't, then they're going to have a very difficult time getting access to that resource."
The Iron Bridge proposal is now open to appeals against the decision, which can be lodged until July 7.
The initial construction phase of the project is expected to take 12 months.
The Iron Bridge project is jointly owned by FMG and China’s Shanghai Baosteel Group Corporation, who control 12 per cent.