The NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) report into the amended application on the Wallarah 2 Coal project has been unwavering in its stance that the NSW Planning Department and the mining company must be able to demonstrate that the mine would not damage the Central Coast’s water catchment before consent could be given.
“The effective resolution of potential impacts on water supply within the catchment remains one of the most significant determinants of the merit of the project,” the PAC report said.
“This was again raised as a key concern in the recent public hearing and in written submissions.
“The issue was thoroughly examined by the PAC’s 2014 review which found that the threat is potentially significant and that obtaining a water licence would not compensate for loss of water during periods of low flow.
“The PAC’s 2014 review applied a more stringent standard than recommended by relevant agencies at the time and recommended a no net impact requirement on catchment water from the mining operation, through the return of suitably treated mine water to the water supply catchment.
“This high standard is necessary for the mine to effectively coexist in a catchment with acknowledged water supply constraints and the projected population growth of the region.
“The PAC supports the conclusions of its own 2014 review on the significance of the water resources to the Central Coast community as no new technical information has been provided in the current review process.
“The PAC also supports that the integrity of the key recommendations must be maintained for the project to meet the public interest test of section 79C of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, otherwise the precautionary approach should be adopted.
“In reviewing the draft conditions, the PAC finds the Department has generally addressed the PAC’s 2014 review recommendations.
“However, the draft conditions relating to the performance measures and compensatory mechanisms for water supply have not reflected the true intentions of the PAC’s 2014 review recommendations.
“The PAC questions whether the draft conditions are enough to ensure “no net impact on potential catchment yield”.
“The compensatory arrangement conditions appear to give preference to the purchase of water licences as a compensatory mechanism when the PAC’s 2014 review is clear that it is not a suitable compensatory mechanism, particularly during periods of low flow.
“The PAC recommends the draft conditions be updated to accurately reflect the recommendations of ‘no net impact on catchment yield’ and reiterates that the preferred compensation is by return of suitably treated water to the catchment side of the water supply system.
“The burden of proof of any impact less than predicted rests with the applicant.”
The PAC report also argued that the estimated net economic benefits of the project had been overstated by the applicant and remained a concern to both experts and the community.
“The PAC shares concerns about the large variances in the predicted costs and benefits, noting the downward trend from the various economic analyses of the project.
“The PAC recommends that the Department clarifies the net economic benefits and the capital investment value of the project for the consent authority’s consideration.”
The PAC report noted the concerns of the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council about the potential impacts on their land near the train load out facility, including loss of access due to the proposed closure of Nikko Rd.
“The PAC finds the applicant’s proposed six metres wide all weather access road and easement is an acceptable solution to address the issue of access to adjacent private lands.
“The PAC recommends an access management plan be prepared, in consultation with affected land owners, to ensure access to private lands is maintained during the construction and operation of the mine, and to include details of the final design of the access road,” the PAC review report said.
The PAC also made additional recommendations on potential noise impacts, closure of Tooheys Rd, community engagement, bush fire management, potential future mining area and the need for an integrated environmental monitoring and public reporting management plan that should be considered by the consent authority.
In 2012 the Wyong Areas Coal Joint Venture lodged an application to develop and operate an underground coal mine near Wyong.
The project was reviewed by the PAC in 2014.
However, the application was not able to be determined because the proposed rail spur was on land owned by the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council (DLALC).
Following an unsuccessful negotiation with DLALC to use their land for the rail spur, an amended application was lodged to relocate the rail loading facility to avoid private land.
In February 2017, the Minister for Planning requested the PAC to review the amended application.
The terms of reference required the PAC to consider the economic, environmental and social impacts; the merits of the project as a whole; the Department of Planning and Environment’s response to the Commission’s 2014 review report; provide recommendations on any additional measures to avoid, minimise and/or manage the potential impacts of the project; and hold a public hearing.
The PAC has carefully considered all the documents identified in the Minister’s terms of reference and additional information provided by the applicant, the Department, government agencies, Central Coast Council and members of the public.
A public hearing was held on April 5.
“The process underlines the NSW Government’s determination to be guided by evidence and community consultation,” said Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Mr Scot MacDonald.
Mr Alan Hayes from the Australian Coal Alliance said the latest PAC report was evidence that the threat to the Coast’s water supply posed by Wallarah 2 was significant and that the PAC’s report meant that it was incumbent on the mining company to prove that the mine would not have any impact on the water catchment under all climatic conditions.
“It now has to go back through another assessment and there will be another opportunity for more public input,” Mr Hayes said.
Member for Wyong, Mr David Harris, said: “The proponent is going to have a very hard time to demonstrate how there will not be any net loss of water from the catchment or how that water can be replaced.
“Now Wallarah 2 will have to go over the PAC report and provide sufficient answers, with evidence, and if the PAC’s concerns are not answered adequately with evidence, then the precautionary principle should be applied and the mine should be refused,” he said.
“PAC also criticised the company for not using best practice in community consultation and I noticed that it has been advertising on radio encouraging the community to call in with concerns, but it has had well over 10 years to do proper community consultation,” he said.
Mr Harris said he had unsuccessfully attempted to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into the NSW Legislative Assembly, called the Wyong Special Protection Bill, that would prohibit any extraction industries from operating in the parts of the Wyong Valleys that are within the Central Coast’s water catchment.
“The Bill is basically what Barrie O’Farrell promised to do,” Mr Harris said.
Report, May 22
Wallarah 2 2017 Review Report, NSW Planning Assessment Commission
Media alert, May 24
Kit Hale, office of Scot MacDonald
Interview, Jun 5
Alan Hayes, Australian Coal Alliance
Interview, Jun 5
David Harris, Member for Wyong
Jackie Pearson, journalist