Acland Stage 3 mine expansion stumbles at latest legal hurdle

The decision shows the original restrictions placed on the mine failed to adequately protect local farmers from the noise.

The Queensland Land and Environment Court handed down a decision on New Hope’s New Acland Coal (NAC) mine expansion on November 7. Proponents say it gives them the green light while opponents say the two-day hearing recommended it be rejected.

The Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) and Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) say the decision effectively recommends Stage 3 of the mine be rejected unless much stronger noise limits are imposed on the project.

Opponents of the mine, which is located on prime agricultural land in Queensland’s Darling Downs, have been waging a legal challenge since the Campbell Newman government approved it in 2014.

In May 2017, the Land Court recommended the minister reject the mining licence. NAC then launched its challenge, which is what led to the case being re-heard.

The OCAA has appealed against this and the hearing in the Court of Appeal will be in February 2019.

The Land Court recommended that the expansion should only be allowed if the noise levels be restricted to 35 decibels, during the evening and at night. This is significantly stronger than the noise levels imposed by the Department of Environment and Science.

NAC now has to apply to the coordinator general of the Department of State Development, Manufacturing Infrastructure and Planning to amend its conditions, which also apply to Stages 1 and 2.

The court recommended that the Department of Environment and Science approve the miner’s application to amend the conditions of its draft environmental approval.

If these conditions are not fulfilled by May 31, 2019, or if the coordinator general decides not to amend them, then the court recommends that the application be refused.

The decision shows the original restrictions placed on the mine failed to adequately protect local farmers from the noise.

The state government must now ensure the Land Court’s decision is respected.

The coordinator general now needs to decide whether to allow the Land Court’s original refusal to stand, or whether to strengthen the noise limit as it has just recommended.

Then the Department of Environment and Science has to decide whether to respect the Land Court’s decision and follow its recommendation to refuse the mine unless the conditions are amended.

Paul King from OCCA said on November 7: “As they [NAC] cannot comply with current noise limits … they are faced with a dilemma: should they apply to have a licence with conditions they cannot meet or should they appeal yet again?

"After today’s decision, New Hope has a headache. After next year’s Court of Appeal hearing they may have a migraine.”