Aussie town that could shut down
THE town of Jabiru knew this day was coming.
As the Ranger mine nears closer to closure, locals face the reality of having their power cut off, stripping them of water and sewerage services, and infrastructure could be completely demolished.
Jabiru is the only town in the Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory, and was developed after the Ranger uranium mine was opened in the 80s.
An agreement states the mine will not operate past 2021, which means the town also has to shut down.
A report commissioned by Rio Tinto's Energy Resources of Australia shows the removal of critical infrastructure including electricity and water supply from the 1100-strong town could lead to the displacement of residents and severe job losses.
It may also reduce health and education services, and result in the closure of the airport, which would affect tourism.
The report found residents and business owners were already suffering anxiety over an inability to plan and make decisions about thei0r lives.
Energy Resources Australia estimates it will cost $507 million to clean up and rehabilitate the site, which must be reintegrated into the surrounding World Heritage-listed national park by 2026.
"There is still uncertainty about the future and while there may be a widely held view that Jabiru can have a future beyond 2021, it is not yet known what that might look like, what changes may take place or when," ERA chief executive Andrea Sutton said.
ERA isn't developing a road map for Jabiru beyond the lease expiration, when production at the mine stops, which is expected to cost 350 jobs.
Schools, sports grounds, emergency services, housing and local businesses have been established in Jabiru and are being threatened by the closure of the mine.
Traditional owners are in talks with the commonwealth and Northern Territory governments over a future plan, while negotiations over a new township lease are underway.
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which acts for the Mirarr traditional owners, outlined the environmental and cultural concerns behind the decision to cease mining.
"You have Australia's largest national park, indigenous communities living downstream from the mine and a very sensitive ecosystem around it," chief executive officer Justin O'Brien said.
He said Jabiru was the gateway to Kakadu and should continue to function without a mine as a tourism hub and regional services centre. Mr O'Brien warns that if the NT government doesn't urgently commit to the town's future, it will effectively be demolished.
"We've seen a steady erosion of the amenity of the town, and it's a self-perpetuating down spiral; the more people who leave, the worse it gets, the more people leave," he said.
"The opportunities for certain business to expand of even exist have been lost, and it's been over 14 years since we first wrote to both tiers of government bringing these issues up."
Mr O'Brien said there were a number of nervous people in the town.
Ken Jones has managed the local supermarket, Jabiru Foodland, for six years and he's not ready to give up on the town without a fight.
"I love it here, I don't plan on leaving, I hope they don't close it," he told news.com.au.
"We would all just move on to wherever we can find a job. It would be hard for the large indigenous population, it's not like there's extra housing or anywhere else around."
Mr Jones said while the town could be demolished, he doesn't expect it to happen.
"Everybody hopes we will come to an agreement, the town will stay and we live happily ever after," he said.
"It's a very close-knit community, it's very friendly and everybody gets on. There's no real crime and it's a great place to live. It's remote but only a couple of hours from Darwin on bitumen.
"It's the best spot for fishing in Australia."
There are more than 100,000 tourists to Kakadu National Park each year and Mr Jones said shutting down Jabiru would destroy its tourism industry.
"We're here right in the middle of the Kakadu National Park, we're the only town in the park and the closest place is Humpty Doo," Mr Jones said.
Locals are hoping to find out the fate of the town by the end of the year, and despite it not shutting down for another four years, Mr Jones said people needed to start making plans.
"Stores and businesses are not going to spend money to do refurbishments or update the place. You don't know if it's going to be here in a couple of years," he said.
"The bakery has closed down, the cafe closed down, the owners tried to sell them for quite a while but couldn't find a buyer so they just left."
Mr Jones knew the closure of the town in 2021 was likely as the Ranger mine lease ended, but he said the town now wants a new plan.
"Over the years the town has become bigger and it's a hub for the area and more than just a mine town," he said.
- with AAP