Wallarah 2 Coal Project Inquiry hears submissions

The rally outside the PAC public hearing into the amended DA for the Wallarah 2 coal mineThe rally outside the PAC public hearing into the amended DA for the Wallarah 2 coal mine. Archive April 2017

The community stood united in opposition to the Wallarah 2 Coal Project at the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) hearing in Wyong on April 5.

The hearing was conducted as part of the PAC’s process to determine whether or not to approve the amended development application for the Wallarah 2 longwall Coal Project.

The PAC will accept written submissions on the project until 5:00pm on Wednesday, April 12. Central Coast Council’s Unit Manager, Development Assessments, Ms Tanya O’Brien, was first to speak, and confirmed Council’s objection to the project. Ms O’Brien said Council had serious concerns about the mine’s impact on the local water supply. She said Council had enlisted two independent consultants, Earth Systems and Pells Sullivan Meynink, to review the amended Development Application, and the consultants found that the risks were greater than those outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by the developer. “The predictions of the Environmental Impact Statement are conservative,” she said.

Ms O’Brien said the Dooralong and Yarramalong valleys, which lay above the proposed mine, form part of the region’s surface water catchment area, and urged the PAC to consider the future health and safety of the water catchment for current and future residents. “The Environmental Impact Statement underestimates the potential impacts on groundwater,” she said. Ms O’Brien said Council was also worried about the project’s impact on subsidence and the nearby Buttonderry Waste Management Facility on Hue Hue Rd, Jilliby. She said the weight of the waste when the facility is filled is expected to be approximately 40 million tonnes.

She said the Department of Planning and Environment’s draft development consent, which outlined 78 conditions of consent, were “light on at best”. Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council’s CEO, Mr Sean Gordon, told the PAC hearing that the Wallarah 2 Coal Project was “unviable and unsustainable”. Mr Gordon said Darkinjung were the largest private land owners around the mine, and that Wallarah 2 would negatively impact housing developments that they have planned for the area. He said Darkinjung wanted to use its land assets to develop land for its people and asked the PAC hearing, “do people want to buy next to a coal mine?” Mr Gordon said Aboriginal people had suffered severe land dispossession since 1788, and had not been able to participate in its economic development, despite striving for years to turn their land into an economic opportunity.

Mr Gordon described the mine’s proponent’s offering of jobs and procurement as a “beads and trinkets offering”. Former Wyong Councillor and current Joint Regional Planning Panel member, Mr Ken Greenwald, also spoke against the amended DA. “I am against the proposal to mine in the Wyong valleys because of the risk that I believe it may have on the Central Coast Water supply, with a view that even the smallest risk is too big a risk to take. “After the drought that occurred on the Central Coast from the early 2000s to 2008, when our water supply dropped to only 9 per cent, it had been proven that water and not coal was the number one resource produced in the Wyong Valleys.

“$114 million dollars has been spent upgrading the water system that is basically based in the valley, $80.3 million having been spent on the Mardi to Mangrove pipeline alone, so that water could be pumped from the Wyong River to the Mardi Dam and then transferred back to the Mangrove Creek Dam for storage. “Yes there are links to the Hunter, but this supply does not come without a price tag. “The proposed mine sits under Mardi Creek and the other tributaries of the Wyong River. “Ground water is also so important that it is bottled and used for agriculture, but it is also a backup resource if the surface fl ows slow, as in the drought. “Again in my opinion, any risk no matter of what size, is too great to take with this resource. “The valley has been stated as being already degraded from previous agricultural and logging uses, but this should not be seen as a green light to degrade it further. “The exploration area was awarded in 1995, before the time of the drought and the need to boost our water supply urgently. “But, as well as this proven need to take care of our water supply, the Central Coast of 2017 is a very different place than it was in 1995. “It is much larger with a population of 333,119 relying on the Central Coast water supply, with a growth prediction to reach 409,000 by the year 2036. “The coal extraction industry is not essential to support the Central Coast, but our water supply is, and they happen to be both resourced from the same location. “The water catchment is quite small but supplies a population that is similar in size to the ACT and larger than the Northern Territory. “Water from the valley, in my opinion, is the resource that will deliver the long term future growth for the Central Coast,” Mr Greenwald said. The PAC hearing was also attended by those in favour of the Wallarah 2 Coal Project. Mr Martin Hodgson, local quarry owner and small business operator of Hodgson Quarries and Plant, told the PAC hearing of the positive effects of jobs and growth the mine would have for the region. He said Wallarah 2 could be one of the biggest employers of Central Coast residents, and the injection into the local community would be in excess of $300 million a year. The PAC hearing was not recorded and presentations made during the hearing will not be made available to the public. According to the Commission’s terms of reference, the PAC must submit its fi nal report on the review of the Department of Planning and Environment’s recommendations within eight weeks of receiving the Department’s addendum assessment report, but may request more time if necessary. The NSW Minister for Planning has requested that the PAC make its decision based on the issues raised in submissions, formal response to submissions, the Department of Planning’s addendum report, and any other information provided on the development during the course of the review or as part of the public hearings. It also has to consider the likely economic, environmental and social impacts of the amended DA in the locality, the region and the State.

Source: Public hearing, Apr 5, 2017 Tanya O’Brien, Central Coast Council Sean Gordon, Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council Martin Hodgson, Hodgson Quarries and Plant Media statement, Apr 6, 2017 Ken Greenwald, Wyong Jasmine Gearie, journalist