Farmers warn of “biggest ever” protests if Shenhua’s Watermark Coal gains approval

Farmers in north-west NSW are angry Shenhua’s massive new mine has been approved, and are vowing to undertake civil disobedience if the project goes ahead.

The Planning Assessment Commission said the mine was “approvable” in a report released earlier this month, despite raising concerns over water and agricultural impacts.

Opposition to the project is strong, and local farmers say they have lost faith in the system.

“The government wants to mine so they’re going to let it go ahead no matter what,” Breeza farmer Sam Clift said. 

Minister for Agriculture and Member for New England Barnaby Joyce said mining should not go ahead on the “iconic agricultural” land of Breeza Plains.

“This licence was approved by a minister who was corrupt – Ian Macdonald – and we are trying to sweep up after him,” he told the Namoi Valley Independent

Joyce said if locals wanted to halt the project, they needed to lobby NSW Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts as they would make the final decision.

“People in Gunnedah are right across this issue, they need to increase the profile of the issue and take it to the next level,” he said.

Another Breeza farmer, John Lyle said PAC identified “holes” in Shenua’s water modelling predictions and is “amazed” the project gained approval.

“They’ve got a lot of work to do," Lyle said.

The commissions said uncertainties around water impacts needed to be resolved before final approval for the mine was granted.

Water expert Dr Colin Mackie said after reviewing the company’s water model he was “unable to accept that the reported groundwater head equipotentials, drawdowns, pit inflows and water table recovery estimates calculated by the proponent’s models, properly represent the impacts on the groundwater systems that would arise from the project”.

Mackie recommends three changes to the model are required.

Clift, who’s farm is directly next to the proposed mine site, argues there should a “three strikes and you’re out” rule when it comes to water management data.

“In the past, the government wouldn’t let us clear the land because they regarded it as a recharge zone for underground aquifers,” Clift said.

“Now they’re going to whack a mine on top of it and they don’t seem to worry about it anymore.”

Meanwhile, Breeza Station owner Andrew Pursehouse  said locals will undertake the “biggest ever” protests until the project is dumped.

“Farmers are not going to stand for this,” he said. 

“You’re going to see civil disobedience, the biggest ever in Australia.

“(The PAC was) out of time so what they’ve agreed is the mine can go ahead, subject to the hydrology being done.”

Shenua’s open-cut coal project will produce 10 million tonnes of coal per annum if approved, and employ more than 600 people.

It is expected the coal mine will deliver $900M in economic benefits in the local region each year.

 “We have always maintained the Project should be considered using fact and science and we hope the PAC review will satisfy any doubts there may be about the science underpinning our assessment,” Project manager Paul Jackson said.

“For the last six years we have worked tirelessly, consulted widely with the community, listened to their views and refined our proposal to accommodate community concerns.”

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