There remains a continuing community divide between miners and those opposed to expansion plans

OPPOSITION: Protesters gather outside the Independent Planning Commission meeting reviewing the Glencore/Peabody United Wambo Open Cut Coal Mine Project.
OPPOSITION: Protesters gather outside the Independent Planning Commission meeting reviewing the Glencore/Peabody United Wambo Open Cut Coal Mine Project.

Like so many public meetings held to review proposed mining projects there are always the two distinct groups of attendees.

SUPPORT: Proponents Peaboby's Michael Alexander, CFMEU's  Wambo Lodge Scott Brittliffe  and Glencore's  Gary Wills.

SUPPORT: Proponents Peaboby's Michael Alexander, CFMEU's Wambo Lodge Scott Brittliffe and Glencore's Gary Wills.

Those wearing suits and high-vis support the project and those carrying placards do not.

This was once again the case at the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) meeting in Singleton last week held to review the United Wambo Open Cut Coal Project.

The project, located near Jerrys Plains, is a joint venture between Glencore and Peabody and will extract 150 million tonnes of coal over a 23 year period. The proponents describe it as a ‘brownfield’ development as a large portion of the mine is on land affected by mining since 1969.

But for those opposed to the project its impacts on air pollution, loss of critically endangered ecological communities and increased greenhouse gas emissions at a time of every rising global temperatures far outweigh its economic benefits.

In what maybe a first for such a meeting two local GPs Barry Thomas and Bob Vickers spoke against the mine’s approval with both specifically concerned about its impact on health and the wellbeing of future generations due to climate change.

Barry Thomas told the Commission he so loved the district he wants his ashes scattered here.

Dr Thomas said he had worked as a GP in Singleton for 34 years and during that time witnessed the massive expansion in open cut mining.

“We are witnessing the death by a thousand cuts to the Valley and in the last 25 years there has been an acceleration of the environmental destruction by the  development of a dense conglomeration of mines in the district,” he said.

“At the same time there has been no studies of the health impacts of these mines on communities like Singleton.

He opined the dearth of research on mine related health impacts.

“All I can say is miners know where the air is better as most live on the coast and  prefer to drive to work each day than breath our polluted air.”

He told the Commission he was a member of the Australian Medical Association not an organisation noted for its radical views.

“But this organisation is warning about the health risks associated with climate change. Opposing this mine is about caring for future generations.”

However the project’s manager Gary Wills believes the proponents have addressed many of the concerns raised in regards to protection of ecological communities and biodiversity stressing that the United Wambo mine had acquired an additional 264 hectares – of which is 198ha of Critically Endangered Ecological Community.

The mine’s biggest selling point is the fact that it will save 250 existing jobs at Wambo’s existing open cut and create an additional 250 new mining positions and provide an estimated $350 million in royalties.There will also be 120 jobs during the mine’s construction.

“The mine will also only have the two voids that are already approved for the existing Wambo open cut,” he said.

“And the final landform will be more in keeping with the natural topography.”

Lock the Gate’s Georgina Wood said air quality in the Upper Hunter had deteriorated during the past three years.

“In Jerrys Plains the PM10 levels exceeded national standards on 11 days in 2018 and there are similar figures for Warkworth, Mount Thorley, Camberwell and Bulga,” she said.

“Approving a new mine of this size will only add to that pollution resulting in the people in Singleton having to live with an increased health burden.”