Protests planned as coalmine decision looms

A protest against the Wallarah 2 longwall coalmine in January.

Residents on the New South Wales Central Coast are mobilising as crunch time looms for a decision on the controversial new coalmine near Wyong.

For more than 20 years, locals have been fighting a proposed coalmine in the Dooralong and Yarramalong valleys.

The area is an important part of the drinking water catchment for more than 300,000 people, and the proposed Wallarah 2 longwall coalmine threatens to take millions of litres of water out of the catchment annually. It will also pollute local waterways.

Wyong Coal, the proponent of the 28-year mine project, is majority owned by Korea Resource Corporation (KORES), the mining arm of the South Korean government.

The coal project was opposed by the NSW Coalition while in opposition in 2009 and rejected by the Labor government in March 2011. But the decision was overturned by the Barry O’Farrell Coalition government in February 2014.

This April, the Environment Defenders Office NSW (EDO NSW) filed an action on behalf of Australian Coal Alliance (ACA) in the NSW Land and Environment Court challenging the validity of the Planning Assessment Commission’s (PAC) approval of the mine. The hearing is scheduled to be heard in the Land and Environment Court beginning November 12.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), the federal government also needs to approve it. An extension until November 9 has been given for federal environment minister Melissa Price to consider the legalities.

ACA spokesperson Alan Hayes welcomed the extension and urged Price to look into whether the Independent Expert Scientific Committee had properly considered the water trigger in its most recent advice to former federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg.

Hayes said that water samples obtained during coal seam gas exploration in the Dooralong and Yarramalong valleys in the early 2000s had indicated high levels of salt and barium.

“This is the same water that would be coming out of the mine,” Hayes said. “That is why the miner has said they would leave it until after approval to give any details about how they would propose to treat that water.

“The water that was a by-product of the coal seam gas wells was transported for disposal at South Windsor in 2004-05. It could not be fully treated; it was not fit for human consumption.”

ACA’s legal challenge to the validity of the approval of the mine is estimated to run for four days. Hayes has called for support for an ACA protest on November 12 in Sydney, saying the outcome of the case should concern all Central Coast residents who rely on the region’s water supply.

“We contend that the Planning Assessment Commission’s approval of the mine in January was unlawful because it failed to consider certain aspects of the mining State Environmental Planning Policy and other criteria,” Hayes said.

“The mining company has put off, to a future date, certain things that were required to be done prior to the consideration of an approval and a mining licence being granted.”

“It was incumbent upon the Planning Assessment Commission to reject the mine proposal unless the mine proponents had fully satisfied all requirements for the mine to be approved, and this was not done.”

Hayes said the community and Central Coast Council were opposed to the mine and that “protecting our drinking water is paramount”.

NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham echoed his concern about the threat to the future of the Central Coast’s drinking water. On October 18, the NSW Greens introduced a motion to declare the Jilliby State Conservation Area a national park.

If passed, and Jilliby gets upgraded protection, it would prevent the longwall coalmine proposal from going ahead as mining is be outlawed in national parks.

Buckingham said that as the Liberals, the Nationals and Labor had all promised to oppose the Wallarah 2 mine previously, they should “take this chance … six months out from the state election of creating a valuable new national park and putting a stop to Wallarah 2”.

Meanwhile, residents opposed to the Wallarah 2 mine are gathering near the office of Lucy Wicks, the federal member for Robertson on October 31 to again make their views known.