The fate of the Ashton South East approval will be determined tomorrow in the NSW Supreme Court, although it is unclear whether Yancoal will proceed with the open cut coal mine if successful.
A spokesperson for Yancoal this morning said the company would assess the current market situation and business case for Ashton South East pending the outcome of tomorrow’s hearing.
Yancoal’s appeal against a Land and Environment Court decision, which currently prevents an expansion of the open cut operation, hinges on the argument that Justice Nicola Pain did not have the authority to impose a land purchase condition on the approval in 2014.
In April this year Justice Pain imposed final orders that Yancoal had to purchase the neighbouring 182-hectare property Rosedale, owned by 80 year old Wendy Bowman, before approval to proceed with the Ashton South East open cut would be granted.
The decision was regarded as unprecedented, as it prevented Yancoal from continuing operations on land the company had already purchased.
Bowman has adamantly refused to sell her property, determined to protect the Glennies Creek waterway and farmland in the area.
“Experts say these farming soils can’t be replaced,” Bowman said.
“We should preserve the region’s agricultural land for generations to come, creating a healthy future, not trash them for a seven year project to boost the profits of a Chinese company beset with financial woes.”
“I am concerned about all the water users downstream, particularly the world famous Hunter wine and tourism industry that relies entirely on water from Glennies Creek that supplies the Lower Hunter.
“It’s beyond me why any mine expansion is needed, when the bottom has fallen out of the thermal coal market, and there’s abundant sun and wind power to be had.”
Ashton South East was initially rejected by the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) in 2011, however the proposal was granted PAC approval in 2012.
HEL spokesperson Bev Smiles applauded Bowman’s tenacity, and questioned Yancoal’s business position in in thermal coal market.
“The company slashed 225 positions from its Abel underground operation in August alone, on the top of 48 jobs lost last year,” she said.
“Why Yancoal is so bloody minded about getting this small mine, with its small future, off the ground remains a mystery.
“Hats off to Wendy Bowman for standing in Yancoal’s way, which is incredibly courageous.”
In 2013 the Hunter Environment Lobby (HEL) appealed against the PAC approval, which was heard by Justice Pain.
Pain rejected the application in August 2014 and approved the expansion on certain conditions, including the purchase of the Rosedale property.
The Ashton South East operation is expected to have a mine life of seven years based on current reserves, although Yancoal anticipates further opportunities for open cut mining after completion of South East.