Hunter Valley infrastructure woes threaten coal industry

An inadequate sewer system in the Upper Hunter has threatened to halt the expansion of Anglo American Coal’s Drayton mine.

In a submission to the NSW state government, Muswellbrook Shire Council said that without funding it will be unable to complete the $34 million sewerage upgrade, required by the Drayton South project until 2022, the Herald reported.

In the submission to the Department of Planning the council said it had made ‘‘multiple applications’’ for funding to bring the upgrade forward.

However, to date the applications have been unsuccessful.

The current sewer plant which relies on systems established in the 1930s and 1960s is already operating beyond capacity.

The heightened demand has largely been driven by increased mining activity in the area, resulting in ‘‘internal overflow events and unintended bypassing of treatment units’’, the council’s submission said.

Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush said the sewer problem may also threaten both the Bengalla and Mount Arthur mine expansion projects.

The council’s submission examines the impact of coal mining on regional councils and criticises the state government for failing to deliver much needed infrastructure funding to the Hunter Valley community.

Six of New South Wales’ coal mines and two electricity power stations are located in the Hunter Valley.

Currently the region’s sewer, roads and health services are under stress, however, the region has received very little funding from the federal and state governments, the council said.

The NSW Minerals Council announced last month that the Upper Hunter should receive the remaining $60 million from the $350 million Hunter Infrastructure Fund.

Adding to this, Infrastructure NSW has also recommended that $500 million be invested in coal communities over the next five years.

The proposal has received support from the NSW government, but no new funds have been committed.

"The department will also carefully consider the council's submission in its assessment of the Drayton South mine proposal, which is ongoing," a Department of Planning and Infrastructure spokesman said.

"At the same time, the council has also sought NSW government funding to assist with an upgrade of its sewage treatment plant and the government will consider this request."

Anglo American said the Drayton South project was a replacement for the existing Drayton mine and should keep the mine open another 27 years, employing the existing 450 staff and using the existing mine facilities.

The council has in the past made provisions for its sewer plant based on the assumption the Drayton mine would close in 2017.

An Anglo American spokeswoman said the project would not put additional pressure on the sewer plant and that the council had been aware of the expansion since 2009.

In response, the council said that there were discussions about Drayton South in 2009; however a formal application was not submitted until mid-2011.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.