People living in and around Gloucester have barely drawn breath since successfully defeating AGL’s plans to turn the Gloucester Basin into a coal seam gas field. Now, they are fighting to stop a massive coal mine, the Rocky Hill Coal project.
Gloucester Resources Limited (GRL) first proposed an open-cut coalmine, 900 metres from homes on productive agricultural land in 2012. The project included major pieces of infrastructure including a coal handling and preparation plant and a rail load-out facility and operating four open-cut pits 24 hours a day.
Residents objected and in June 2015 GRL asked the NSW Department of Planning and Environment to place their application “on hold and not progress it any further”.
Last August, GRL submitted a new environmental impact statement (EIS) that included three open-cut pits instead of four, no night-time work and the construction of a road to link the Rocky Hill Coal Project with the Stratford Coal Complex.
The EIS said the mine would produce 2 million tonnes of coal a year for up to 21 years and, at its peak, employ 110 people.
Once again, locals had to submit their objections, including that the proposed mine was too close to homes and the town; its physical health impacts, such as the dust, noise and vibrations from blasting; its mental health impact; plummeting property values; and the loss of visual amenity in a beautiful part of the country.
The mine is in an area of great significance to the Aboriginal community. The law requires GRL to undertake an Aboriginal cultural heritage assessment, which must demonstrate effective consultation with Aboriginal communities in determining and assessing impact. By any measure GRL has failed to comply with these requirements.
Aunty Susan Syron, an Aboriginal Elder in the Biripi Nation with connection to the Worimi Nation and a descendant of Jack Cook and Jesse Brummy, First Nations people of the Gloucester area, said: “The company has demonstrated an unwillingness to engage with our Aboriginal heritage, history, culture and the spiritual dimension permeating all aspects of our life and beliefs.
“GRL’s EIS is a very superficial and inadequate attempt to comply with its legal requirements. It fails to assess the broader cultural values of the land to Aboriginal people, as opposed to individual archaeological sites; the ‘consultation’ with Aboriginal interests was inadequate; and it contains misrepresentations stating that the consultation was legitimate and that it somehow conveyed Aboriginal agreement to the GRL proposal.
“GRL’s own documents reveal that at least nine Aboriginal sites will be destroyed by the mine. However, they have not even surveyed the whole of the area affected.
“It is extraordinary in that the GRL proposal will obliterate our Country, our heritage and our spiritual connection. The emotion that is stirred up by the possibility that the area that holds our ancestors’ spirits may be changed forever, and no longer be a place of well-being for people who share our connection to the place, is crippling.”
Groundswell Gloucester chairperson Julie Lyford said people felt devastated that they had to go through the “flawed” process again. She said mines are rarely not approved, which means the government ignores most of the work communities do to respond to an EIS.
“There is no faith and trust in the integrity of government and the processes around mining and resource extraction,” Lyford said. “We have a minister who sees communities, like us, Bulga and elsewhere, as fodder.
Lyford said a detailed survey by Gloucester Shire Council showed an overwhelming majority of residents were opposed to the mine.
“To build such a mine so close to town is appalling and must be stopped. If built, this mine would be an unsightly scar on the Gloucester landscape and present huge health and environmental risks to the residents. The proposal is simply unacceptable.
“We will fight with every avenue we have to show this is a mine that should never be contemplated in this valley for many reasons, especially for downstream users.”
When submissions closed last October, the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) said it had received more than 2500 submissions, with only 10% in support and 84% opposed. The department also received 16 submissions from special interest groups objecting to the project.
GRL must respond to the submissions by the end of this month. If the DPE is satisfied with GRL’s responses, a report will be prepared for the Planning Assessment Commission for review and a public hearing.
[Stay in touch with the campaign against the Rocky Hill Coal Project at Groundswell Glouscester.]