Lake Macquarie under threat from coal mine

In an era of climate change, global warming, high carbon emissions and with renewable energy coming to the fore, it is astounding that a proposal for another "open cut" coal mine is set to reach the NSW planning department.

On March 14, Centennial Coal held an open day at Blackalls Park Public School. The purpose was to inform residents of its proposal to develop the Olstan mine in bushland near the Lake Macquarie towns of Blackalls Park, Fassifern, Awaba and Toronto.

This was a part of Centennial Coal's community consultation strategy. Over 200 concerned residents attended, surprising the company's representatives.

Located just south-west of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie is a not only one of the largest salt water lakes in Australia, it is also home to one of the fastest growing cities in NSW. It is the eighth most populous city in Australia.

Lake Macquarie is surrounded by beautiful beaches, the ocean and the Watagan Mountains. The city is a natural playground for bushwalking, camping, picnicking, fishing, surfing and sailing.

There are over 100 accommodation outlets and Lake Macquarie welcomes about 900,000 visitors a year, according to the Lake Macquarie City Council's website.

However, this idyllic lifestyle and environment is under threat.

The western side of Lake Macquarie faces a real prospect of more open-cut and auger coal mining. (Unlike open-cut or underground mining, the auger mining technique involves drilling directly into a coal seam lying close to the surface.)

Already this area has been exposed to many violations from mining companies. The villages of Fassifern and Wakefield/Killingworth have open cut coal mines close by.

The western side of the lake simply cannot tolerate another open-cut coal mine. Centennial Coal, for example, was responsible for the Fassifern auger mine and the devastation of the nearby environment.

Centennial's proposed Olstan mine is classified as auger mining. However, opponents point out the mine will have pits more than 40 metres wide. They argue the mine is really a form of "open-cut" as there will be extensive excavation and damage to the environment.

Community groups like No Open Cut Mine For Awaba (NOCMFA), United Residents Group for the Environment of Lake Macquarie (URGE) and South Communities Against Mining are outraged by the new mine proposal.

In 2005-06 these groups, and the Lake Macquarie community, fought and won the battle against another Centennial Coal plan for an open-cut coal mine in the Awaba and Cooranbong area.

At first, Centennial Coal was very low-key with its process of "community consultation" about the Olstan mine. Awaba residents received notification via a mailbox drop.

Media releases printed in local papers were considered enough for other residents affected by the new mine proposal. Due to strong public pressure from NOCMFA, Centennial changed its approach and finally contacted shopkeepers to carry flyers for the upcoming event.

Centennial Coal has "identified" the Olstan project as requiring development approval under the controversial Part 3A of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

There is a curious history behind the plan. In February 2007, then planning minister Frank Sartor prohibited open-cut mining in the Lake Macquarie local government area under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 act.

The concerns about the mine include exposure to dust particles and other health risks said Peter Morris, president of URGE.

According to Morris, the effects of wind-borne dust from the mine poses the greatest threat to the greatest number of people. Fine dust particles "can easily spread 10km in a mild wind", Morris said.

There are other major concerns echoed by community groups. Craig Williams of NOCMFA told Green Left Weekly: "The noise from excavation work, blasting, clearing, truck movements and everything else we see in any typical open-cut type of mining operation will make life unbearable for these people."

And of course there is the obvious environmental damage that is associated with open-cut mining — pollution to the lake, damage to Palmers Creek and extensive clearing and removal of vegetation, impacting on the residents and native wildlife.

Centennial Coal is preparing a new environmental assessment and more community open days will be arranged to counter the strong public backlash against the proposal.

[For more information on the campaign contact Dave Snedden (NOCMFA); Craig Williams (NOCMFA); Peter Morris (URGE); or visit]

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