ECO BREACH: An aerial view of Rio Tinto Alcan Yarwun’s red mud dam, the focus of sentencing in Gladstone Magistrates Court.
ECO BREACH: An aerial view of Rio Tinto Alcan Yarwun’s red mud dam, the focus of sentencing in Gladstone Magistrates Court. Brenda Strong

Rio Tinto’s $35,000 red mud dam fine a boost for turtles

RIO TINTO Alcan Yarwun was slapped with a $35,000 fine but escaped conviction in Gladstone Magistrates Court on Friday after they pleaded guilty to breaching environmental obligations at its red mud dam.

The fine related to Rio's failure to reach compliance with an environmental authority that required Rio to have a specified design storage allowance in place at their Residual Management Area (RMA) by November 1, 2012.

As part of its obligations, Rio must have enough storage capacity at its RMA dam to handle expected rainfall from a one-in-50-year, three-month-long wet season.

An investigation conducted by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection found Rio's progress unacceptable and began legal proceedings.

The court heard on Friday that issues with contractors coincided with heavy rainfall early this year to contribute to the compliance failure.

Rio had the works fully completed by March 28 this year and had reached its design storage allowance by October this year, and were on track to reach compliance for 2014.

Rio Tinto Alcan Yarwun general manager Pat Fordyce said they had fully accepted Magistrate Ross Risson's decision.

"We regret that we did not achieve the required construction milestone," he said.

"We are committed to compliance with regulatory requirements, and we worked closely with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection at the time to actively respond to and manage the delay."

Rio was ordered to pay half the fine to Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, as part of a public benefit order.