Mt Thorley Warkworth mine recommended for approval

The Planning Department has recommended Rio Tinto’s plan to expand its Mt Thorley Warkworth mine be approved.

The company was originally granted permission to extend the mine in 2012, but this was overturned by the NSW Land and Environment Court in April 2013.

After appealing the decision, the NSW Supreme Court also ruled that Rio was not allowed to go ahead with the expansion in April 2014.

A short time later, Rio submitted two new development applications for the same site to the planning department.

Current planning approvals mean the mine can only sustain existing production and employment levels until the end of 2015.

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.

The mine is also expected to have a net economic benefit to NSW of $1.34 billion.

In its assessment of the project, the planning department conceded there would be a number of environmental effects.

“The project would increase the dust, noise, blasting and visual impacts of the existing Warkworth mine, as mining operations move further to the west,” the department said.

“These impacts, combined with the impacts of other mining operations in the region, would increase the intensity of mining impacts on some privately-owned rural properties in the vicinity, particularly in the village of Bulga.”

But the department said it believes these impacts can be effectively managed with the implementation of a number of strict conditions.

These include ways to minimise noise, the acquisition of privately-owned property at the request of the landowner should dust emission exceed acceptable levels, and the implementation of suitable landscaping treatments in consultation with the affected landowners.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia managing director Chris Salisbury welcomed the approval recommendation.

‘‘We now need urgent action from Planning Assessment Commission to determine our application,’’ Salisbury said.

"This mine has been a major part of the Hunter community for more than 30 years and we are seeking approval to continue operating on land it owns and within the footprint of existing mining leases.’

"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 community groups we partner with. "

Salisbury said Rio had been working for five years to secure the future of the mine and would continue to work with the NSW government towards including an important addition to Goulbourn National Park with more than 1800ha of land owned by the company.

Others have slammed the government for handing down its approval just days after Rio responded to the 2,400 public submissions received as part of the approval process.

"Absolutely astounded that they've moved with such speed that it is not possible again for them to prepare this report properly, considering the response to submissions has only just been received from the mining company," Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association vice-president John Krey told the ABC. 

"We've spent a couple of days now working fulltime preparing our comments on the response.

"But, then we find that they're not waiting for any further response from the community, they've just recommended its approval."

Krey labelled the decision as a betrayal.

“That the Department of Planning has recommended approval of this mine demonstrates their utter capture by the mining industry,’’  Krey said.

“The department has utterly betrayed Bulga, and the public trust, in working closely with Rio Tinto ever since the original expansion project was overturned by the court.

"It is a disgrace, this sort of processing really needs further investigation by independent authorities because this is beyond a joke now."

A public hearing into the project will be held by the Planning Assessment Commission at Singleton Diggers Club on December 18.

You can read Department's full report here. 

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