Warkworth coal under threat from new ecological listing

The federal listing of 400 acres of critically endangered forest may threaten the approvals process for the Mt Thorley-Warkworth expansion project, after new information was presented at a public consultation meeting in Singleton yesterday.

NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said yesterday that under commonwealth law, any project that is likely to have an impact on a federally listed species or ecological community requires the commonwealth’s approval.

“This highly controversial mine project will destroy almost 400 hectares of Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest and Woodland, which the Federal Environment Department listed as a Critically Endangered Ecological Community on May 7, just seven weeks ago,” Smolski said.

“Given how vulnerable this woodland is to extinction, the state government must halt assessment of Mt Thorley-Warkworth expansion proposal until the Federal Environment Department has examined the impacts on this endangered ecological community and is satisfied it is safe for the mine expansion to proceed.

“To continue with the planning assessment without that critical piece of information would be irresponsible.”

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association vice-president John Krey said opposition to the expansion in Bulga were unaware of the new federal listing until the Planning and Assessment Commission hearing yesterday.

“We’ve been battling to save the Warkworth Sands woodlands for five years, it’s a world-unique ecological system which only grows in the Aeolian sands, which are two to three thousand year old windblown sands, which is a critically endangered system,” Krey said.

“Clearly we’ve been trying to save the whole of the woodlands there because it was all endangered, but now that this is on the critically endangered list, that is one that we believe has got to be on of the main thrusts of our argument.

“The commissioners have now been made aware of it… it’s a massive area within the expansion area.”

Krey said it was “fair enough” that workers were concerned about their jobs, a topic which formed the bulk of statements in support of the expansion yesterday.

“They’ve got a lot hanging on this, but we believe this is a terminal industry, and it is going to finish one day,” he said.

“There’s got to be a transition out of this industry, and once we start slowing these things down it will give the opportunity for other industries to get underway here because the pressure of unemployment here will drive the government to do something, because at the moment they’re sitting back collecting coal royalties saying ‘why would we bother?’”

A spokesperson for Rio Tinto Coal and Allied told Australian Mining that the company has offered to commit 1800 hectares of land in the Goulbourne Valley biodiversity area towards a proposed national park in the Upper Hunter as part of more than 2800 hectares of offsets.

“The Goulburn River biodiversity area has a variety of ecological values including ecological communities that provide similar structure and function to the habitats impacted by the Warkworth Continuation," he said.

“The Goulburn River biodiversity area has other values including adjoining an existing national park, has riverine habitat and is not underlain by a coal resource.

“The Goulburn River biodiversity area has significant breeding habitat for the Regent Honeyeater.”

The spokesperson said the Mount Thorley-Warkworth has federal approval under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act for the area covered by the Warkworth Continuation, and that it was not possible for the later listing of the Central Hunter Eucalypt forest to affect that determination.

The Warkworth mine expansion will come to 2.6 kilometres away from the Bulga Village at the proposal’s closest extent in 2031.