Court says it can approve Hunter coal mine expansion but conditions still to be determined
27 August 2014
A legal challenge by a Hunter community group to the expansion of the Ashton open cut coal mine is continuing after the Land and Environment Court today found that approval of the project could be granted but left a number of conditions undetermined.
The legal challenge to the approval of the 315 hectare mine expansion next to the village of Camberwell, near Singleton, was mounted by the Hunter Environment Lobby, represented by environmental legal centre EDO NSW. The proposed mine expansion would extract 16.5 million tonnes of coal over seven years.
The court judgment states that: “On balance I consider that approval can be granted but that approval must be subject to adequate conditions about which a number of issues of clarification and possible alteration remain.”
The judgment also stated that a number of conditions still need to be finalised including those relating to air quality, water resources and acquisition of properties.
The court found that the mine expansion would have negative economic impacts on neighbouring rural properties including a farm which has been in the same family since the 1830’s, one of the oldest farming families remaining in the Upper Hunter.
The court acknowledged the difficulty in weighing up the economic benefits against the social and environmental impacts on the village of Camberwell including the loss of social cohesion in a town already significantly impacted by mining.
The parties to the case, the Hunter Environment Lobby, Ashton Coal and the NSW Minister for Planning will set a timetable on Friday for further submissions on the conditions for the approval of the mine expansion.
EDO NSW principal solicitor Sue Higginson said: “While the prospect of this mine being approved is disappointing for the Camberwell community, the wine growers and farmers downstream of the mine, there is still some scope for setting conditions designed to minimise adverse impacts on air and water quality and prime agricultural land.”
The Hunter Environment Lobby presented evidence on the impacts that the mine will have, on the health of nearby residents through dust emissions (PM10 and PM2.5), the loss of Aboriginal cultural heritage, the reduced agricultural productivity of the locality, and the threats to Glennies Creek and Hunter River (key water resources in the Region). The community group also presented expert evidence that the economic justification for the project was inflated and not based on sound economic modeling.
The NSW Government’s own Department of Health opposed the mine expansion because of the adverse health impacts of increased dust from the mine on Camberwell residents. It said particulate pollution from the existing mines has already resulted in regular breaches of air quality standards around Camberwell with 11 breaches during one nine- month period.
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