Whitehaven Coal has won the right to continue work at its Maules Creek mine project after an injunction application to stop the development was dismissed in the Federal Court.
The Northern Inland Council for the Environment filed the challenge to appeal the proposed mine in July, challenging the validity of former federal environment minister Tony Burke’s decision to approve the mine.
The group wanted work at the site halted until a decision on the matter had been made, however after a full day hearing in the Federal Court yesterday, Justice Griffiths dismissed the injunction.
Whitehaven’s managing director and CEO, Paul Flynn, welcomed the decision, adding that the project was still on target.
“This is obviously a positive result for the company,” Flynn said.
“Coal production is on target for the first quarter of CY2015.”
The court’s decision on whether the project should proceed is not expected until early November.
Northern Inland Council for the Environment spokesman Phil Spark told Australian Mining the group was disappointed with dismissal of the injunction.
“The approvals aren’t legitimate until that court case has been decided,” Spark said.
“The impact assessment is seriously flawed.”
The $766 million Maules Creek mine project was granted with strict environmental conditions in February before being given the final go ahead in early July.
The project will produce about 60 per cent semi-soft coking coal, and 40 per cent high-quality thermal coal.
Once at full production, Maules Creek will produce 13 million tonnes annually, of which 10.5 million tonnes will be saleable coal.
The project has been a contentious issue in the local community since its inception.
Protests broke out after the decision to grant environmental approval was handed down, with Traditional Owners claiming Whitehaven hasn’t done enough in its Cultural Heritage Management Plan to preserve cultural artefacts
Gomeroi Traditional Owner Stephen Talbott said the company has not carried out proper consultation and said more respect needs to be shown to local Indigenous culture.
“Whitehaven have shown no respect for Aboriginal cultural heritage or our people. Even today, they lied to our Elders about work progress. We are standing up for our Elders and for our children today,” Gomeroi Traditional Owner Stephen Talbott said.
While local farmers have also spoken out about the mine’s potential impacts.
Long term resident and farmer Phil Laird said the mine would impact on the natural environment.
‘‘We don’t want this area to become the next Hunter Valley,’’ Laird said.
‘‘Between them, Maules Creek and Boggabri mines will account for more than 4000hectares of the 7500-hectare Leard State Forest, leaving massive final voids that the scientific experts said should be filled in.
‘‘Environmentally, the mines will devastate various native species including koalas and swift parrots, and as farmers, we are concerned about the damage the mines will do to the surrounding aquifers.’’
Whitehaven have previously stated that the ‘mere commencement of litigation’ would not stop the company in continuing with construction work.
“The Maules Creek coal project involved a comprehensive assessment and decision-making process,'' the company said.
“If, however, the court was to find that there was any legal error in the Minister's granting of the approval on 11 February 2013, the company will request that the Minister promptly cure the error, re-determine the application and grant a new approval. There is no contention in this litigation that the Minister is prohibited from granting an approval for the project.''
Whitehaven was quick to point out that the action taken was to determine whether Burke committed an error of law in granting the approval and that it was not a merits appeal.
“The court does not have the task of determining whether or not the project should be approved,'' Whitehaven said.