There are calls for a moratorium on coal mining in state parks near the Blue Mountains after members of New South Wales parliament visited the critically endangered habitats at risk of being explored underneath.
- Four state MPs have joined calls to grant 39,000 hectares of parks near Lithgow a State Conservation Area
- Liberal Catherine Cusack says her government’s planning department have made “mistakes”, contributing to the draining of swamps
- ‘Destination Pagoda’ is a tourism plan for the Gardens of Stone reservation proposal
Long-serving NSW Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack is blaming her own party’s “erroneous” environmental approvals processes for allowing Centennial Coal to longwall mine below swamps, home to endangered ecosystems.
Centennial Coal has applied to re-open and expand its dormant Angus Place coal mine on the Newnes Plateau, near Lithgow.
It sits within the 39,000 hectares that is being proposed as a State Conservation Area (SCA), known as the Gardens of Stone stage 2.
Mining destroys important swamps
The company admitted its mining operations at its Springvale Mine in the Plateau “contributed to the drying out of the Carne West swamp”.
Ms Cusack said she feared a similar outcome for about 300 remaining hectares of swamps, which could affect the supply of Sydney’s drinking water to Warragamba Dam.
The Liberals MP implored the NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean and Minister with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) Rob Stokes to put a moratorium on the company’s proposal.
Centennial Coal’s environmental assessment (EA) found “subsidence-related impacts are expected” at several swamps within the catchment area for the Angus Place Mine.
“Handing responsibility over to industry to protect things like swamps has not been a success,” she said.
“The Department of Planning is not doing their job, and we need to be much more guided by science in how these decisions are made.”
Plans to extend the mine are before the DPIE.
A spokesperson from the department said it would rigorously assess the Angus Place Extension Project’s impact on swamps and biodiversity by seeking advice from the Independent Advisory Panel for Underground Mining.
“The company is required to comprehensively monitor and assess, manage and offset these impacts,” the department’s spokesperson said.
At the very least, Ms Cusack said, the Angus Place Mine should avoid extracting coal from directly underneath swamps.
But Centennial Coal’s EA stated it would be unviable to avoid mining underneath sensitive areas, but a “swamp offset strategy” is proposed to mitigate the potential impacts.
Ms Cusack would also like to see the area given State Conservation status.
That, however, would not prevent mining and exploration activities occurring.
Julie Favell from the Lithgow Environment Group said ideally the area would become a National Park.
“It’s not just the swamps, which are endangered ecological communities, there’s so much internationally significant wild and wilderness areas,” Ms Favell said.
Tourism opportunity awaits
‘Destination Pagoda’ is a tourism proposal for the Gardens of Stone, developed by the Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness Keith Muir, alongside Ms Favell.
The plan would make the Gardens of Stone a recreation playground, with improved roads, walking and biking trails, and camping areas.
They expect it to bring $28 million dollars a year to the Lithgow region, and more than 100 jobs.
Part of the proposal was to turn the ‘Lost City’ into an easily accessible lookout.
“[It] is a win for miners, a win for the environment and a win for the Lithgow community by creating a state conservation area that does not stop mining,” Mr Muir said.
“Of course we are going to continue to oppose mines, but we want to create a tourism economy based on the area,” he said.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean was unavailable for comment.
The ABC contacted Centennial Coal for a response to concerns about the project and the call for a moratorium.
A company spokesperson said it was focused on supplying power and local jobs to Lithgow.