Time is ticking on Mt Thorley: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto’s chief of energy said time was ticking for workers at Mt Thorley Warkworth mine and hopes the government will give the green light for an extension at the project soon.

Rio was originally granted permission to extend the mine in 2012, but this was overturned by the NSW Land and Environment Court in April 2013.

Justice Brian Preston said the extension would cause “significant, diverse biological adversity, noise and dust and social impacts”.

He said the impacts ''would exacerbate the sense of loss of place, and materially and adversely change the sense of community of the residents of Bulga and the surrounding countryside”.

After appealing the decision, the NSW Supreme Court also ruled that Rio was not allowed to go ahead with the expansion.

In a move that foreshadowed the court of appeal's decision, Rio submitted two new development applications for the same site, and these are being assessed by the NSW government.

Current planning approvals mean the mine can only sustain existing production and employment levels until the end of 2015.

At a business lunch in Sydney on Tuesday, Rio’s energy boss Harry Kenyon-Slaney said the mine was a massive employer in the Hunter Valley region .

“It is a big and important mine in the Hunter Valley. It employs 1300 people and a significant number of other contractors and makes a big contribution not only to the NSW economy, but also to the Singleton and Hunter Valley region,” he said.

“We have submitted our application and are hopeful that it will be considered expeditiously and are encouraging the NSW government to consider it because the time is ticking on Mt Thorley.”

The company says the new applications will provide it with an integrated operation which can sustain mining within the existing footprint for the next 30 years.

It says the plan means the 1300 employees and contractors who work at the site will have job security.

Rio has attempted to sweeten the deal with a biodiversity offset package which includes a donation of 1800 hectares of land to be made a national park.

The company has also said it will upgrade its diesel powered heavy equipment with noise attenuation kits by the end of 2016 and offer voluntary acquisition to those residents who were granted acquisition rights under the 2012 Warkworth planning approval.

However some locals have accused the miner of not listening to their concerns.

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association spokesman John Krey said Rio had resubmitted the same application rejected by the Land and Environment Court.

In particular, they don’t want to see mining occur in bushland next to the town that was previously  intended to be set aside as a conservation area.

“These new plans totally ignore everything the judge said, it’s exactly the same footprint, same demolition of the Warkworth Woodlands and there is absolutely no protection provided for our community,” Krey said.

Rio is currently preparing responses to submissions made about the expansion during its public exhibition period.

The NSW Department of Planning will then make its assessment.

Kenyon-Slaney said Rio had worked for many years to secure the mine’s future.

“We’ve been a process now for just over five years trying to extend the life of Mt Thorley Warkworth.

“We got a brief extension which has kept the operation alive, but we do need to see these issues resolved and hopefully receive permission for the extension to take place.”

Image: theglobalmail

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