Whitehaven Coal is facing a further legal challenge against its Maules Creek mine that aims to halt the felling of trees in the Leard State Forest.
The Maules Creek Community Council (MCCC) has sought an injunction in the Land and Environment Court that will seek to halt the miner’s operational work in the forest, near Narrabri in north-west NSW.
The group claims Whitehaven is in breach of its development consent by clearing the forest during winter when animals, including threatened species, are hibernating.
It said the clearing is unlawful and contravenes the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
The injunction application is due be heard this afternoon at 3:30pm.
In a statement to the ASX, Whitehaven said it will vigorously defend the court summons, stating its clearance activities are being conducted in accordance with a Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) approved by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
Whitehaven secured changes to its clearing plan on the 14th of May when the NSW Government said it could start winter clearing work until the end of June, and recommence operations in November.
“The approved BMP regulates the manner and sequencing of tree clearing in the already approved Mining Area and contains specific protocols to mitigate the impacts of clearing on fauna which Whitehaven is adhering to under the guidance of a team of experts,” the company said.
The miner said the NSW Government has conducted two audits of these protocols at Maules Creek, one as recently as last week.
Whitehaven said both audits concluded that the protocols were being appropriately applied.
However the MCCC said all the mines in the area are approved on the condition that the forest is not cleared during winter, and claim the last minute change is a sign both the NSW government and Whitehaven coal are not serious about protecting threatened species.
“As a local community, we feel that we have been forced to take this action because the NSW government has failed in its responsibility to uphold the law and protect the environment of NSW,” MCCC spokesman Phil Laird said.
Meanwhile, protests at the site are continuing as activists try to halt the clearing work by climbing trees and getting in the way of bulldozers.
Kate Warren, a 23-year-old veterinary nurse, has spent more than 100 hours atop a tree in the forest to protest against the winter clearing operation.
First arrested in January for chaining herself to a fence in order to halt construction, Warren has been a regular figure in the activist’s fight to disrupt the development of Maules Creek mine.
More than 171 people have been arrested since direct action started in December, with rallies at the site ramping up in recent weeks.
On Sunday, more than 50 people entered a newly cleared area of the forest to plant native tree seedlings.
Whitehaven said while they have no problem with peaceful protests, this is not what’s happening at Maules Creek.
“There are countless examples of protest groups putting their own lives, and the lives of our workers and contractors, in very serious jeopardy,” the spokesman told Australian Mining.
He said both Whitehaven and NSW Police had been doing all they could to ensure someone doesn’t get hurt or killed.
“But running around a construction site in the dead of night, illegally trespassing in camouflage gear and balaclavas, puts everyone at risk.
“Another recent foolish example was a protester putting their neck under the unsupported, five tonne, blade of a bulldozer. This may seem a noble act of defiance to the people that helped arrange the stunt, but it’s actually just an act of colossal stupidity which could have easily resulted in someone getting killed.
“Despite the protestors' self indulgent consumption of NSW Police and Police Rescue time, the project remains on time and budget.”
The $767 million project is slated to produce first coal in 2015.
Once at full production, Maules Creek will produce 13 million tonnes annually, of which 10.5 million tonnes will be saleable coal.
The mine is expected to create over 800 jobs and will pay $6.5 billion in royalties and corporate tax over the first 21 years of the project.
NICE was unsuccessful in arguing that former Federal Environment minister Tony Burke committed an error of law in approving the mine.