Shenhua’s huge Watermark Coal project in north-west New South Wales has been given the green light by the Planning Assessment Commission.
The open-cut coal project, located near the Liverpool Plains, plans to produce 10 million tonnes of coal per annum for 30 years, and has come under intense scrutiny from some local farmers in the region who are concerned over water and environmental impacts.
The commission found that while the mine would impact on biodiversity, air, and noise- Shenhua could manage these issues.
It also found that because the mine will be built above the black soil plains, it will not directly disturb the high fertile soil.
However, as part of the approval, PAC wants the government to do more in order to protect the Liverpool Plains.
‘The commission considers it will be important for the government to undertake some more detailed work to identify and protect those highly valuable, fertile black soils where mining should be prohibited, as ongoing uncertainty for the surrounding community does impact on its ability to plan and invest for the future,’’ the commission’s report said.
Impacts on groundwater were also a key concern, with an earlier PAC review ordering Shenhua to make changes to its water model – while independent modelling was also conducted by PAC.
It was found that the drawdown at four privately owned bores would be up to 1.4m, below the Aquifer Interference Policy trigger. Testing also showed there would be no reduction in the quantity of water able to be extracted from these bores.
However, PAC has strengthened conditions to include additional monitoring and to compensate any landowner whose water supply is adversely impacted.
Strict conditions have also been put in place to protect the koala population and habitat and to minimise the impact of dust, noise and traffic on local residents.
Shenhua Watermark project manager Paul Jackson welcomed PAC’s approval.
“Today is the final step in a long journey through the NSW approvals process. It has not been without challenges and both PACs have undertaken rigorous examinations of key aspects of the Project to confirm there will be no impacts on the wider agricultural production of the adjacent Liverpool Plains,” Jackson said.
“We have been subjected to detailed investigations at every step of the journey and the community can have confidence our assessments have been tested and confirmed by an independent panel of experts who have scrutinised every aspect of the project.
“We will not mine on the Liverpool Plains and the PAC has once again confirmed the irrefutable evidence showing the Project will not harm the valuable irrigation groundwater accessed by those who farm on the plains.”
The company hopes to begin construction at the site during 2015-16. The mine is expected to employ around 600 people and contribute $900 million in direct and indirect spend every year for 30 years.
Spokesman for Caroona Coal Action Group Tim Duddy has accused PAC of signing the “death warrant” for Liverpool Plains, and said the group will seek to appeal the approval.
NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simson said the approval was disappointing.
“I think it's a huge blow for agriculture and a huge blow for the Liverpool Plains," Simson said.
"This highly productive region had been mapped as being highly productive, but now a new open cut mine is going to be placed right in the guts of it.
"It's very hard for the community to have much faith that in this particularly unique special region, where there are some very complicated aquifer and soil structures, that a mine only 150 metres from a floodplain would have no impact."