A local landcare group has this week launched a landmark legal challenge against the proposed Shenhua Watermark open-cut coal mine, near Gunnedah in north-west NSW.
The mine has met widespread opposition since it was approved by the NSW Government in January this year. The mine project will extend across 9,500 hectares of fine food-growing land on the fertile Liverpool Plains and have severe impacts on the natural environment.
Upper Mooki Landcare has lodged a judicial review case in the NSW Land and Environment Court against the decision by the Planning Assessment Commission to approve the mine.
"The approval of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine on some of the best food-producing land in Australia has devastated our community" said Nicky Chirlian, Chair of Upper Mooki Landcare.
"The NSW Government has given the green light for Shenhua Watermark to dig three vast open-cut coal pits in the Mooki River Catchment.
"As a landcare group we are committed to promote the protection and conservation of the environment. This decision makes a complete mockery of the efforts of groups like ours and ignores the incredible environmental significance of our region.
"We believe that the decision by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission to approve the Shenhua Watermark coal mine was based on a legal error.
"We will be arguing that the decision-maker did not comply with threatened species requirements when it was considering the impact on vulnerable Koalas that live in the area.
"The Gunnedah region is recognised as the 'Koala Capital of the World' and the Watermark mine will leave at least 262 Koalas homeless.
"The mine is proposing to forcibly translocate Koalas if they don't move away 'naturally', but evidence from previous translocation projects show that it causes Koala deaths, including one project in Victoria where 90% of translocated Koalas died" she said.
See attached background briefing note for more information on the Watermark Project.
ATTACHMENT 1: BACKGROUND BRIEFING ON THE WATERMARK COAL MINE
- The Watermark coal project, owned by Chinese company Shenhua, will cover 9,500ha of land on the rich Liverpool Plains of NSW - an area recognised as a national food-bowl.
- The mine comprises 3 open-cut coal pits and will produce 10 million tonnes of coal per annum for 30 years.
- The mine was given final approval to proceed by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 on 28th January 2015.
- The Federal Environment Minister is yet to approve the mine under the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1979, and has referred it back to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee for more advice.
The Liverpool Plains
- The Liverpool Plains generally produce winter and summer crops, and yield about 40% above the national average of food per hectare - contributing approx $332 million to GDP annually.
- The Plains produce 91% of NSW Sorghum production, 58% of NSW legume production and 26% of NSW cattle production.
- The Plains are crucial to bringing bread, pasta, corn flakes, sunflowers, muesli and high quality Aussie beef to Australian families and dinner tables.
- The mine will destroy important agricultural land and result in long-term social and economic impacts due to the loss of farming businesses.
- The mine will clear a total of 4,084 hectares of vegetation, including 789 hectares of Endangered Ecological Communities (most of which is Box-Gum woodland).
- The mine will impact on up to 38 different plant and animal species that are threatened with extinction and are known or likely to occur in the area.
- The mine will make an estimated 262 individual Koalas homeless and clear over 800ha of Koala habitat - a species which is listed as Vulnerable nationally and in NSW.
- Gunnedah is known as the “Koala capital of the world” and the Pilliga and Gunnedah populations are key populations west of the Great Divide.
- The company behind the mine will forcibly translocate Koalas if they don't move away 'naturally.' Evidence from previous translocation projects shows that it causes Koala deaths, including one project where 90% of translocated Koalas died.
- The mine will impact negatively on one of the most productive and important groundwater aquifers in NSW - the Upper Namoi Alluvial Aquifer.
- The mine will leave behind a 100 hectare final void. This gaping, un-rehabilitated hole will draw groundwater for two millennia after mining ceases, reaching salt levels equivalent to seawater after 400 years.
- The mine will cause increased salinity due to overflow of water storages, seepage from open-cut pits, connectivity between aquifers and land-clearing.