After first being proposed more than a decade ago a decision is expected within weeks on a new underground coal mine at Berrima in New South Wales Southern Highlands after a chorus of support for the recommendation to refuse consent.

Key points:

  • The NSW Department of Planning recommended the project be rejected in June 
  • More than 60 of the 80 people who addressed the Independent Planning Commission this week expressed opposition to the mine
  • A decision by the IPC is expected within weeks

The South Korean-owned company Hume Coal wants to build a new mine and associated rail links approximately 100 kilometres southwest of Sydney and 7 km northwest of Moss Vale.

It hopes to extract up to 3.5 million tonnes per annum of coal — about 55 per cent coking and 45 per cent thermal coal.

It proposes using a ‘pine feather’ method of extraction, which has not previously been used in NSW or Australia.

The proponent explained the “pine feather” as extraction using a system of continuous miners and conveyor belts in a horizontal layout that is analogous to the branches and pine needles on a young pine tree.

In June, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) recommended the project be rejected citing several concerns including the impact on groundwater.

Map showing hundreds of ground water bores around the proposed mine.

Groundwater bores identified around the proposed Hume Coal project in the Southern Highlands.(

Supplied: Hume Coal

)

The NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) this week held two days of public hearings into the project with almost 60 of the more than 80 submissions supporting the recommendation to reject the mine.

The Department’s Director of Resource Assessment, Steve O’Donoghue said groundwater remained the key concern.

“The key aquifer that would be impacted by the project is the Hawkesbury sandstone groundwater aquifer with some 363 registered water supply bores within in 9 kilometres of the project,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

“Pressure decline or drawdown exceeding the two-metre minimal impact consideration is predicted on up to 118 registered privately owned bores,” he said.

Mr O’Donoghue said overall the negative impacts of the project outweigh any benefits.

“The department has completed a triple bottom line assessment and whilst the department acknowledges the economic benefits that may arise, we don’t believe they outweigh the substantial environmental and social impacts,” he said.

‘Welcome to my world’

Jane Lawler lives in Medway and told the IPC her family’s home is only 750 metres from the proposed project.

She became emotional while giving evidence as she explained the impact the proposal has had on her family for a decade.

“We will be able to see the towering stockpiles from our kitchen living room window directly south at a distance of 750 metres,” Ms Lawler said.

“For the last ten years, we have lived with the pressure and stress of decision making without certainty.

“It’s soul-destroying,” she said.

‘Taint’ clean green reputation

Brigid Kennedy from Moss Vale and Rural Chamber of Commerce told the inquiry the region has 16 wineries and almost a third would be impacted.

“We also have 300 registered with the ATO beef producers in our region, when we lose our bore water that will mean those regions will become unproductive,” she said.

Food scientist, Raymond Frost said the project posed a risk to the region’s creation of a registered trademark ‘highlands providore’.

“Any element of contamination or impact on health and wellness to this picturesque region whether through dust or affiliated with water contamination concerns or other risks stemming from railing coal to ports.

The Interim Administrator of Wingecarribee Shire, Viv May said the project had caused considerable distress to members of the community.

“The Hume Coal project is already having a physical and mental toll on residents of the shire.

Road sign on a farm called Evandale Road

Evandale Farm where the mine will be constructed(

ABC News: Phillipa McDonald

)

$1 billion in local wages

Andy Davey from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union told the hearing the project would be a ‘game changer’ for the region creating 400 jobs construction and 300 during operation.

“Hume Coal is committed to training and recruiting local workers with operational employees required to live in Southern Highlands,” he said.

Mr Davey said as it extracted from the Wongawilli seam it would supply important high-quality coking coal to the Port Kembla Blue Scope steelworks.

Hume Coal Project Manager Rod Doyle said the project was worth a ‘significant’ capital investment of $500 million and would generate $200 million in royalties for the state.

Mr Doyle said the impact on bores was subject to a “bit of an exaggeration” by the department.

He also disputed the department’s description of the mine as a ‘greenfields’ projects. 

“My personal opinion … this area has been totally denuded of its original flora and fauna.

He urged the IPC panel to approve the project.

“The Project has very good environmental conventions, good economics with significant economic flow-on benefits.

“Commissioners I commend this state-significant project to you and look forward to your decision … no pressure but 100’s of jobs depend on you,” he said.

Additional written submissions can be made on the project until July 23, the IPC, a decision could then be made as soon as a fortnight after.

Coal jobs, millions in wages against ‘green’ wineries and cow paddocks: Southern Highlands coal mine decision looms
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