As part of its new applications to expand Mt Thorley Warkworth mine, Rio Tinto have turned to an independent consultant to develop a Social Impact Assessment.
Sydney-based EMM, planning and environment consultants will begin work on the SIA this week, and are holding a number of meetings with residents in Bulga.
EMM senior planner Michael Askew said the SIA would be formed by talking to residents, stakeholders and business owners about their views around the mine plan, Singleton Argus reported.
“We want to gather the views and perspectives and the general community feeling about the project,” Askew said.
“This is first time the company has done a complete SIA using independent consultants,” he said.
The SIA will be included as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the newly submitted applications by Rio subsidiary Coal & Allied that seek to expand the mining operation.
The company was originally granted permission to extend the mine in 2012, but this was overturned by the NSW Land and Environment Court.
The company is appealing this decision, but says it cannot afford to wait for a judgement from the NSW Supreme Court.
Askew said the application for Mount Thorley would see the site take overburden from Warkworth mine after 2017.
He said the Warkworth development was essentially the same as the one disapproved by the Land and Environment Court.
Rio Tinto Coal Australia managing director Chris Salisbury said the mine is under considerable financial pressure.
“Our current planning approvals will only allow Mount Thorley Warkworth to maintain existing production and employment levels until the end of 2015,” he said.
“A strong future for Mount Thorley Warkworth will also mean a strong future for everyone who benefits from the mine, from our employees and contractors to the hundreds of other businesses that supply it and the many local communities groups we partner.”
The company says the new applications will provide it with an integrated operation which can sustain mining within the existing footprint for the next 30 years.
It says the plan means the 1300 employees and contractors who work at the site will have job security.
Rio Tinto has attempted to sweeten the deal with a biodiversity offset package which includes a donation of 1800 hectares of land to be made a national park.
The company has also said it will upgrade its diesel powered heavy equipment with noise attenuation kits by the end of 2016 and offer voluntary acquisition to those residents who were granted acquisition rights under the 2012 Warkworth planning approval.
It has also committed to spend $4 million over five years towards a significant regeneration programme to increase the size of the endangered Warkworth Sands Woodlands and ironbark ecological communities that currently exists.