A COMMUNITY legal challenge to the proposed $600million Mount Thorley Warkworth open-cut coalmine expansion began yesterday without slowing the development company’s efforts.
The Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association has appealed to the New South Wales Land and Environment Court against the state government planning assessment commission’s approval of the project in February.
Association spokesman John Krey said the appeal would be based on the open-cut’s merits and the fact community concerns, and those of community-engaged consultants, had not been properly considered.
Just as yesterday’s court case began, the development company Coal and Allied put out a media statement welcoming the federal government’s approval of the expansion under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The deal sanctioned the proposal’s environmental land offset package.
Coal and Allied spokesman Graham Witherspoon said federal approval resulted from “a rigorous, open and transparent assessment over two-and-a-half years.”
This statement, and another before the Land and Environment Court broke for lunch, said Coal and Allied was continuing to meet its commitments under the planning commission’s approval which had been active for six months.
The second statement quoted Coal and Allied spokeswoman, Alison Smith, saying: “We look forward to a timely resolution of this appeal process to confirm the New South Wales planning assessment commission’s decision and provide certainty about the future for the community, our employees and the hundreds of local suppliers who do business with Mount Thorley Warkworth mine.
“Last year Mount Thorley Warkworth spent in the Upper Hunter Valley region alone more than $194million with more than 270 suppliers and more than $568million in total with over 940 suppliers across Australia.”
Mr Witherspoon said that as state government approval was “alive” the company was proceeding “as normal” to revise management plans, quieten its mining equipment, negotiate a voluntary planning agreement with Singleton Council and establish a new community consultative committee.
An “independent” chairman, Dr Col Gellatly, had been appointed to the new committee, he said.
In response to community anger, Singleton Council has on five occasions opposed the open-cut expansion, rejected plans to close Wallaby Scrub Road, Bulga to facilitate the pit, and refused the coal company’s initial $11million planning agreement offer.
After opening addresses yesterday, the Land and Environment Court case is expected to involve a site inspection today, testimony from objectors tomorrow and then submissions on dust, noise, health and wellbeing on Thursday and Friday.
The case will then be adjourned to resume on September 10 for another five day sitting.
Mr Krey said: “The community has lost confidence in the state government, with Planning Minister Brad Hazzard not honouring the 2003 ministerial deed of agreement that protected the endangered ecological community and also preserved Saddle Ridge from open-cut mining.
“Adding to the outrage is news that Minister Hazzard is now allowing Coal and Allied to start mining Saddle Ridge while the court is considering the appeal.
“Bulga is a small village of 350 people fighting for its existence against the royalties chase by the state government and might and wealth of Coal and Allied.”
Mount Thorley Warkworth general manager Cam Halfpenny said that while federal environmental approval was not the green light to begin mining, it was another step towards extending the mine’s life to 2033 and offered a level of certainty to the mine’s 1300 workers