‘Jerrys in jeopardy’: community steps up fight against king coal

About 100 people gathered at the Jerrys Plains community hall on January 29 to outline concerns about the encroachment of the coal industry on their township and to begin a united fightback.

The meeting, organised and chaired by the Jerrys Plains Progress Association, heard from representatives of four groups. Association president Peter Day introduced the forum by showing a map of the five proposed mines that threatened to engulf the community: Carrington West, Plashett, Wambo, the huge Drayton South Mine, and the Doyles Creek mine (now under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption).

John Drinan from the Singleton Shire Healthy Environment Group spoke about the diabolical volumes of dust created by coalmining and power generation in the Hunter Valley. Drinan said the National Pollution Inventory showed that hundreds of tonnes of fine particles were emitted each day, containing 37 pollutants including nitrous oxides, sulfuric acid and heavy metals, which are carcinogenic or cause respiratory complaints such as asthma.

Arthur Burns spoke on behalf of the Hunter Valley Water Users Group, which has about 300 members. He said that the “gateway” process created as part of the NSW Liberal government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Plan was completely ineffective at stopping coalmining from destroying prime agricultural land.

He said there was no cost benefit analysis to show the merits of allowing mines that would depressurise and pollute aquifers and render huge swathes of previously productive land useless for hundreds of years after mining ceased.

Bev Smiles from the Hunter Communities Network said her experience as a resident of Wollar near Mudgee should serve as a warning to the Jerrys Plains community. She said the Wilpinjong mine operated by US-based multinational Peabody created huge dust and noise issues for the community, forcing many residents to sell up.

The mine bought these properties and expanded the mine into the newly acquired land. Wollar was then destroyed; everyone left and the town was dead.

John Sunderland spoke on behalf of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which represents 150 farmers and associated business entities. He said the Hunter was home to the largest concentration of thoroughbred studs in Australia and the second largest in the world behind Kentucky.

Sunderland said the NSW Liberal government had broken its promise to provide better planning and protect farmland, aquifers and “critical industry clusters” from mining.

Sunderland, Burns and Drinan said they were not opposed to mining in general, but that beyond a certain stage mining started to adversely affect other industries. Sunderland said the “saturation point” of mining had been reached and the Hunter Valley was at a “tipping point”.

He said horse breeding should not be so close to mining. The Bickham, Drayton South and Doyles Creek mines in particular would have “irreparable and irreversible impacts on our industry”.

After hearing from the panel, the meeting was opened to the floor and heard questions and testimonies from a range of speakers.

John Shewan from the Wybong Action Group said his community had been destroyed by the Mangoola mine at Anvil Hill and that Jerrys Plains residents should prepare for “the fight of your life”.

He said unity was essential because the mining companies used divide-and-conquer tactics. He warned that consent conditions on mines pertaining to noise and dust “meant nothing” because “the companies don’t give a damn”.

Jeannie Hayes from the campaign group Jerrys in Jeopardy told the meeting the NSW government Planning Assessment Commission, responsible for approving the neighbouring Warkworth/Mt Thorley extension, had concluded that the “economic benefits of the project outweighed community concerns”. This was despite the fact the mine would engulf the Warkworth township.

The meeting passed a resolution, which said: “This public meeting, convened to discuss the growing concerns of the residents of Jerrys Plains, calls upon Federal, State and Local governments to act immediately to halt the effects of rapid coalmining expansion on our air quality, water resources and the future of our sustainable local industries.

“We demand a moratorium to be placed on all coal mining proposals encircling our town and that an evaluation be undertaken on their cumulative impacts, over-riding the current case-by-case approvals process, which we believe threatens the survival of our region.”