Shenhua’s huge Watermark Coal project has been recommended for approval by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
The open-cut coal project, located 25 km south-east of Gunnedah, will produce 10 million tonnes of coal per annum if approved, and employ more than 600 people.
It was recommended for approval by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) in September subject to more tests being carried out on its water modelling and rehabilitation design work.
A spokesperson for the Department said that in response to the PAC’s review the company conducted more extensive groundwater modelling, which was reviewed by an independent water expert.
The final assessment conducted by the Department of Planning and Environment recommended approval of the project subject to strict conditions and stringent monitoring.
"A key consideration in the Department’s assessment was the value of the Liverpool Plain – some of the most fertile and productive land in NSW," a spokesperson said.
"The project is on higher ground above the black soil plains and extensive groundwater modelling has confirmed there would not be any significant impacts on aquifers or agricultural production."
The Department said it has strengthened recommended water monitoring requirements for the project, based on the advice of the independent expert.
This includes recommendations that observation bores are set up near the mine and on the edge of the alluvial flats to monitor any unforseen impacts.
Recommended modelling requirements have also been updated to require that predictions are reviewed and validated at least every 10 years when mining ceases as well as every three years during the mine’s operation.
The Department also recommended a set of conditions around noise, blasting, air quality and biodiversity.
PAC will now make the final decision on whether to give the project the green light.
Opposition to the project is strong and more than 400 people took part in a protest march against the massive new coal mine in June.
Minister for Agriculture and Member for New England Barnaby Joyce has previously said mining should not go ahead on the “iconic agricultural” land of Breeza Plains.
“This licence was approved by a minister who was corrupt – Ian Macdonald – and we are trying to sweep up after him,”he told the Namoi Valley Independent
Joyce said if locals wanted to halt the project, they needed to lobby NSW Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts as they would make the final decision.
“People in Gunnedah are right across this issue, they need to increase the profile of the issue and take it to the next level,” he said.