Stop with the dramatics: former mayor’s message to Hunter Valley horse breeders

An Independent Upper Hunter candidate has taken exception with people who are opposed to Anglo American’s Drayton South coal mine, but who don’t live near the Muswellbrook area.

Independent candidate for the seat of Upper Hunter and former mayor, Lee Watts, claims the majority of opposition to the mine comes from people who live "nowhere near the coal face".

The comments come as the Drayton South coal mine was referred to the Planning Assessment Commission after the Department of Planning supported its approval.

Anglo's reduced mine plan, which was developed after repeated rejections of its wider proposed Drayton South mine, gained approval last week.

Under the new plan the mine will sit behind the natural landscape, will reduce its operating life from 27 down to 20 years, and cut tonnage from 119 million down to 97 million over the life of the mine.

PAC will now hold public hearings on the mine expansion next month in Denham.

Watts says some of the submissions made suspect claims about being affected by the mine, ABC reported.

"All submissions need to be looked at and there may be people genuinely impacted by the expansion and their views actually deserve to be heard and ways to reduce the impact need to be found," Watts said.

"But more than half of the submissions are not from those people, they are the people who are nowhere near the coalface.

"So, I think people who are part of our community need to be heard."

Watts also questioned claims by horse breeder Coolmore that it planned to leave the area if the mine expansion went ahead.

She said the company’s purchase of a neighbouring vineyard called in to question its intention to leave the area.

"Coolmore purchased the Arrowfield Estate and on one hand they're threatening to leave and on the other hand they're actually purchasing additional land," she said.

"So I think we need to stop with the dramatics and realistically work together as a community.

"We can co-exist and I think this can happen."

This is not the first time Watts has come out swinging for Drayton South.

In April she compared locals complaining about the Drayton South mine to people who move next to an airport and complain about planes.

Watts said the mine had been part of the local area for decades, and lamented The Planning Assessment Commission’s rejection of the project, ABC reported.

The Drayton South expansion will be a replacement for Drayton mine which is set to close in 2017.

The 500 current employees at Drayton will be automatically employed at the new mine which is adjacent to the existing operation, however Anglo say all jobs are at risk if the expansion does not gain approval.

Earlier this year the miner cut jobs at the mine after implementing a new roster aimed at slowing down production until a final expansion decision is made.

Drayton South project director Rick Fairhurst urged the PAC to progress to the next stage of approvals as soon as possible in order to provider the remaining workers certainty over their future.

“The release of the report is a positive step forward for our employees, the local community and the 140 local businesses depending on Drayton South for their livelihoods,” Fairhurst said.

In its report, the Department said mining and horse breeding should be able to co-exist in the Hunter.

“The Department’s latest assessment acknowledges that horse breeding and mining are both very important to the Upper Hunter and found the two industries can coexist,” a Department spokesperson said.

“As recommended by the PAC in its review, the mine will not be visible from the primary operating areas of nearby horse studs.”

However a group of Hunter Valley tourist operators, wineries and horse studs have again called on the NSW state government to reject Anglo American’s expansion of Drayton South mine.

They say if the mine goes ahead it will cost $457million to the NSW economy, will strip $120million annually from the local Hunter economy, and put 640 jobs at risk.

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