A burgeoning koala habitat is threatening to complicate plans for a billion-dollar coal mine on the Liverpool Plains in north-west NSW.

Key points:

  • Twenty-five koalas have been mapped in an area slated for a rail line
  • Koala researchers say this area is now ‘core habitat’ and should not be destroyed
  • Shenhua says it is consulting widely as it prepares a Koala Plan of Management

The Shenhua Watermark mine was first proposed in 2008, and the company applied to the NSW government for a mining licence last year.

But the recently released minutes of a meeting of the project’s Koala Technical Working Group reveal plans for an associated rail line could put a local koala population in danger.

Dr Valentina Mella from the University of Sydney is an adviser on the committee and told a July 2020 meeting that she had mapped 25 koalas in the Court Lane corridor, including four breeding females.

“She stated that based on the data she had collected over four years, Court Lane is a core habitat as defined under SEPP 44 and should not be destroyed,” the minutes read.

But destruction of the Court Lane corridor for the rail line was approved by the former Planning Assessment Commission in 2015.

Protected under ‘strict conditions’

In a statement, a Shenhua spokesperson did not commit that the company would change its plans to avoid disturbing the Court Lane corridor.

They said the company was consulting a range of koala experts in the preparation of its Koala Plan of Management.

“This plan is still in development and when completed will be subject to approval by the New South Wales Government,” the spokesperson said.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) said the 2015 planning assessment imposed strict conditions on the company, with an understanding that core koala habitat would be impacted.

A DPIE spokesperson said Shenhua was required “to establish new koala habitat corridors and offsets in the local and regional area.”

Georgina Woods leans against a fence in the countryside

George Woods from Lock the Gate says the mine’s 2015 approval is outdated, due to the recent decline in koala populations.(

ABC News: Simon Beardsell

)

But Lock the Gate’s George Woods said the landscape for koalas was very different now, compared to 2015.

“Establishing new areas of habitat is a huge question mark. We know that koalas are in a heap of trouble all around the state,” she said.

A 2020 NSW Parliamentary inquiry revealed koalas are likely to be extinct in the state by 2050 without urgent intervention.

Shenhua plans to extract about 10 million tonnes of coal from the mine, which would be shipped to China through the port of Newcastle.

‘Core habitat’ for koalas threatens to derail mine
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