5000 opposition emails lodged against Rio Tinto’s Warkworth mine expansion

More than 5000 emails opposed to Rio Tinto’s proposed expansion of Warkworth mine have been received by the Planning Assessment Commission this week.

The opposition is thought to be in response to workers at the mine site making 950 favourable submissions to the NSW Department of Planning.

A commission spokesperson told the Newcastle Herald that the emails were identical but sent from different people.

She said the emails arrived at intermittent times during the day and night and would be considered as comment rather than individual submissions.

‘‘We are very aware that people are concerned about the proposal – the commission will consider all of the feedback it has received,’’ she said.

The period for comment originally closed on November 29, however this was extended after wide-spread criticism that two weeks was not enough time for a substantial public response to the controversial expansion plans.

Almost 1000 of the 1128 submissions made were in favour of the project, with Rio criticised for encouraging mine workers to make a large number of submissions in support of the project.

Rio then lodged its response to the 1081 submissions on the project one day after the public exhibition period closed, causing more ire.

The Department of Planning recommended the project for approval 21 days after the application was lodged before referring it to the Planning Assessment Commission for a final decision.

A Rio Tinto spokesman said the company had followed due process in its submissions to expand the mine.

While New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell also denies any wrong-doing and says he has complete confidence in the assessment process.

However some Bulga residents have asked ICAC to investigate saying there is irrefutable evidence that showed the department had shown bias in favour of the miner.

Lodging its application to access land around its Mount Thorley Warkworth operations in early November, Rio said accessing the extra land was “the only real option Rio had to avoid further significant impacts on production and jobs”.

"We are already at the point where production will drop by around a million tonnes next year regardless of any actions that can be taken now,” the company’s coal division managing director, Chris Salisbury said.

He said the application was a much smaller extension then the one that was overturned by the Land and Environment Court in April.

The company cut 40 jobs after the decision was handed down and warned 1300 more jobs would be on the line if the modification did not go ahead.

Salisbury said the new extension is seeking access to a further 350 metres of land to continue operating and was essential in keeping the mine viable.

It is unclear when the commission will hand down its final decision.

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