Coastal coal battle

A long running battle over a proposed underground coal mine on the NSW Central Coast has reignited.

The Wallarah 2 Coal project is a contentious underground mine located in the Wyong area (see Australian Mining April 2010).

For a number of years the mine, and its Korean backers KoRes, have seen serious opposition to the proposed project.

It sought approvals from the state government but was rejected in March last year due to a number of ‘unresolved concerns’ regarding its impact on the water catchment, subsidence, and ecological impacts.

According to the Department of Planning "the project was not considered consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development". However Despite this approval rejection, Wallarah Coal still sought to develop the coal deposits under the coastal region.

The mine soon came back on the agenda for the local community as KoRes again sought approval from a new state government following a Liberal ousting of the previous Labor government.

As Wallarah and their Korean joint venture partners sought to revive the project the miner quickly came to loggerheads with the local council and environmental groups once more.

Water Tensions

The main concern remains the mine’s potential impact on water, with both sides giving a different story as to what the mine will do.

Speaking to Wallarah’s general manager Kerry Heywood, he told Australian Mining that worries over its impact on water were misplaced.

"Public concern has been on our effect on the water catchment, but the project and planning commission said in its report that there will be a minimal impact to the region’s water, but opponents to the mine keep saying it will have a devastating impact.

"This isn’t the case ¬ we don’t operate under water, our operations are only under a very small area of the catchment and won’t have a serious impact on the water supply.

"Even if there is an impact, it is only likely to be between five and 14 per cent," Heywood added.

"A minimal amount."

However, this minimal amount is raising serious concerns from the council.

Wyong Shire mayor Bob Graham told Australian Mining that "this mine is operating under the catchment for the whole area, which provides water for around 300 000 residents.

"KoRes tell us that the mine won’t affect the region’s water, but I don’t believe it. They claim it but they have never been able to prove it to me."

A community group fighting against the mine, the Australian Coal Alliance (ACA), stated previously that "no matter what the company says or does it is clear that there will be an impact and they can’t escape from that".

Graham went on to stress that even though he is the patron of the ACA he is not anti mining at all; he is "just against this mine in particular and the risk it poses to the region’s water supply".

Heywood stated that the Wallarah is working to dispel this idea, adding that the potential upsides such as jobs and development for the area outweigh the "benign impacts of the mine.

"This mine was designed for water in the area."

He added that the initial project development rejection had nothing to do with water, and more to do with a government making a decision as it went into caretaker mode.

Fading relations

With the two unable to agree, relations have slowly decayed between the miner and the Wyong Shire Council.  Most recently claims of one party ignoring the other and being ‘uncommunicative’ have emerged.

On local ABC radio, Graham stated that the only communication the council has had from the miner was via the media. 

Yet according to the miner, the council had not responded to a number of offers to meet and discuss the latest developments.

"We met with the GM and planning director in November and asked what more needed to be done," Heywood told Australian Mining.

"We came back later, in January, and received no response at all."

Heywood added that he only heard the council wanted a full briefing from the company after hearing it on the radio.

However this was refuted by the council in no uncertain terms.

"That is untrue," Graham explained to Australian Mining.

"They claimed that they couldn’t email me, it’s a poor excuse. We met with them and they brought no new news on the project."

The Widening Debate

Federal member for the local area Craig Thomson, who has recently come under the spotlight in regards to credit card usage during his time in the HSU, also came out against the mine. 

Thomson called on the State Government to ban all mining in the region.

"Otherwise we will see time and money wasted because the community will again have to fight this coal mine plan and again prove that our water supply must be protected," he said.

While the two parties remain divided over the mine’s potential impact, both have claimed to have had support from current NSW premier Barry O’Farrell; support which has since disappeared.

Speaking to Graham, he complained that "when Barry O’Farrell was running for premier he promised to stop this coal mine, but now they’ve gone against this pledge for the money that will come from its operation". Earlier, Heywood stated "the O’Farrell Government’s commitment to an independent process free from political interference is entirely consistent with safeguarding the environment and water supply".

However since these comments new environmental requirements enacted by the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure are more stringent than those previously in place.

Even the locals are divided.

Calls to Australian Mining from unnamed Wyong Shire locals have expressed anger at the opposition to the mine, in particular to the loss of potential jobs.

With the gulf seemingly widening between the two parties, the issue is unlikely to be resolved soon.

All that is clear is that Wallarah will continue to spruik its operations and "spread the word to everyone so we can dispel alarm", while community groups and politicians continue to fight against a mine they believe may damage the local region beyond repair.

Slider Image courtesy of Lisa Levine.

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