After numerous setbacks Rio Tinto has managed to gain permission to expand its Mt Thorley-Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley.
The approval for a smaller expansion of the operation was granted today by the New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission.
The future of a proposed larger expansion for the coal mine is still being fought over in the NSW Supreme Court.
With today’s approval under its belt Rio can begin mining a smaller area of land located within the previous expansion proposal.
Managing director of Rio’s Australian coal operations, Chris Salisbury said the win will firm up production and employment at the site for almost two years.
"This approval provides a short-term lifeline for the Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine and its more than 1300 workers,'' he said.
But he explained the interim measures could be too little too late.
“We’ve now been granted this short-term approval to resume operating as normal, but the disruption we’ve already experienced means coal production will fall by around a million tonnes this year and cost close to $100 million,” Salisbury said.
“Any further loss of production at a time when Australian coal mines are battling to remain internationally competitive would place the future of Mount Thorley Warkworth and the jobs of 1300 people at risk.”
He said gaining longer-term approvals will be critical for maintaining production levels beyond 2015.
“We’ve spent more than four years so far trying to secure the long-term future for this mine,” Salisbury said.
The original expansion plans were halted last year when the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned government approvals.
NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard is supporting the case, also lodging an appeal.
Hearings are scheduled to continue later this year.