STAWELL - More than one hundred residents met with Northern Grampians Shire Councillors at an invitation only meeting over the proposed Big Hill Enhanced Development Project last Thursday.
Mayor, Cr Wayne Rice said it was a chance for residents who live in close proximity to the proposed project to come together and share their views.
During the 90 minute session Cr Rice went around to several of the tables and spoke directly with residents about their concerns.
"There were people strong in opposition, I could hear it in their voice, but there were also people willing to discuss and listen," he said.
Cr Rice maintains there were people at the meeting who are either open to or in favour of the proposal.
"There was also a table where I got the feeling people didn't mind either one way or the other which way the project went," he said.
"I think there are people who are in favour of the process continuing because they realise we have the opportunity for development and that we need to grab it while we can."
Cr Rice said they went with the idea of groups at tables with at least one employee from the Northern Grampians Shire Council so everyone had the chance to be heard.
"We realise there are people with strong views and by holding an open forum the strong vocal people may have taken over," he said.
Questions replicated across the tables covered areas of health, lifestyle, water, what the process would be surrounding complaints handling, ensuring the mine met all of the conditions and the frames around the rehabilitation of Big Hill.
"There were a lot of questions that we just don't have the answer to yet," Cr Rice said.
He said the most common question on the night was centred around property values.
"I have said this before and I will again, if the property value of someone's home decreases then the amount they pay in rates will also come down," he said.
"If people aren't happy with the valuation, they can come to council and appeal.
"There are mechanisms to ensure people are treated fairly."
Another of the predominant concerns was questions about why the Council hasn't moved to address the eventual closure of the mine previously.
Cr Rice said he has been working to encourage new investment in the town over a long period of time.
"I have been pushing to have retail on the Western Highway for a long time, but am continually knocked back by people saying it would kill business in the Main Street," he said.
"My position is we need to try for whatever we can get.
"We can't stick our head in the sand, we need to work extremely hard to encourage business and new industry in this town."
Another issue for residents was what the mine had actually done for Stawell and what it would do in the future.
"It was put to me that the mine has done nothing for this town, that simply isn't true," Cr Rice said.
"The number of grants, engineering businesses and disposable income the mine has brought to this town must be recognised.
"The number of homes that have been built, it is unfair to say that the mine has done nothing."
Cr Rice said he would be looking to contact the mine to get an approximate figure on how much it had put into the community over the years.
A lot of the questions will remain unanswered with the mayor clearly indicating in the lead up to the meeting he and other councillors would not be able to answer detailed questions about mining.
Cr Rice said the planning process will depend on whether an Environmental Effects Statement (EES) is required.
He said one of the ideas, a community vote or referendum on the issue is just not possible at any stage in the process.
"I had a lady contact me asking for a referendum and in that referendum the people from Fisher Street would get two votes, while everyone else in the town would get one, that is simply not on," he said.
"My message is that we don't want this getting out of hand. Yes it is a very emotional issue, there is emotion, but people need to keep the emotion out of it."
Cr Rice said before the next proposed public meeting people will need to wait to hear from the Planning Minister.
"Everything now hinges on what the minister decides and we were expecting a decision by now," he said.