Blockade ends as coal company wins land access case

Protestors have ended their blockade of a lane in the NSW Southern Highlands after a court granted Hume Coal access to a property via the road.

The blockade of Carter’s Lane in Sutton Forest has come to an end after an order by the NSW Land and Environment Court.

On Friday morning Justice Sheahan said that Hume Coal had the right to access a property via the lane, Southern Highlands News reported.

Hume Coal and property owner Robert Koltai agreed to a Land Access Agreement in mid-2012, making way for the company to drill three bore holes on the land for coal exploration.

However the lane is owned by the Alexander family who allowed protestors to block the lane and restrict access to Hume Coal.

The protestors were supported by the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group who are concerned about the impacts of another coal mine in the area.

SHCAG convenor Peter Martin said landowners being targeted by the company for land access were "distressed".

The court ruled that Hume Coal was not required to have a Land Access Agreement to drive across Alexander’s property via Carter’s Lane and that the lane was the most convenient access route to Koltai’s property.

“The decision confirms the company’s position that there has been no legal impediment to us accessing the Koltai property to undertake exploration and environmental monitoring,” Hume Coal project manager Tim Rheinberger said.

“It also validates our position that a covenant over a number of properties in the vicinity has no bearing on our activities.

“While we are pleased with the decision we are deeply disappointed that the owners of Carters Lane and the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group set up the blockade and caused this unnecessary action in the first place.”

SHCAG coordinator Time Frost said the group would stop the blockade.

 “SHCAG of course will abide by the law as we expect others to do the same,” he said.

“We don’t really see it as a win or a loss, it’s just process and our broader intention is to get the laws changed, particularly the NSW Mining Act which is outdated, weighed in favour of exploitation and not protecting the environment.

“SHCAG will continue to support landowners who are against allowing mining companies onto their land. Hume Coal has stepped up their land access program and is currently trying to drag a handful of landowners through arbitration

Early last month, Hume Coal were granted a three y ear lease to continue coal exploration in the area.

Rheinberger said the remaining properties it had identified for access should provide enough data to determine the feasibility of the project.

"The only way to provide definitive answers about the future of the Project to the community is to finalise our exploration and gather detailed information about the coal resource and environmental conditions in the region. We hope to be in a position to provide this certainty during the next renewal period and we will continue our pro-active community engagement program to keep the community informed of the Project's key milestones and developments."

Rheinberger said the company was committed to supporting the local community by using local contractors for its projects.

The company has previously stated that benefits to the community would include 500 temporary jobs, 300 permanent roles, and apprenticeship programs with local schools and TAFE.

Rheinberger said the company had already spent about $900,000 with local businesses.

Image: southernhighlandsnews.com

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