Lock the Gate Alliance and concerned locals have slammed troubled coal mining company Wollongong Coal (WCL) for seeking approval from the Department of Planning to remove a key condition of its mining consent. The company has also ignored an order from the Department from more than a year ago to comply with the clean up condition.
Wollongong Coal’s "preliminary works approval" for its the Russell Vale mine was approved in 2011. The approval requires the company to fix existing poor engineering in Bellambi Creek to stop overflow of stormwater sending coal fines and other mine pollution into the creek. This work has not been done.
The Department of Planning issued the company with a compliance order to adhere to the condition in October 2016, but Wollongong Coal is applying to modify the consent conditions so the work does not have to be done.
In a submission opposing Wollongong Coal’s request, the NSW EPA has criticised the company for poor environmental compliance and highlighted thirteen compliance actions taken against it in the last six years.
The EPA’s submission says, "in recent years WCL has demonstrated they cannot consistently manage and maintain pollution control equipment and plant on site" and that the proposed modification "presents an elevated risk to the downstream community and environment" compared to the existing commitment.
Gavin Workman from Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining said, “Wollongong Coal has an atrocious history of non-compliance, pollution and accidents. It’s unusual for the EPA to oppose a coal mine project and we’re glad they’ve taken a stand in this case.
“It’s unthinkable that the NSW Department of Planning would let Wollongong Coal get away with not fixing up Bellambi Creek. The pollution they have caused is already unacceptable and the company is only trying to get this change made because it can’t afford to comply.”
Wollongong Coal is currently being prosecuted by two government agencies and is under investigation as to whether it is "fit and proper" to operate in NSW.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “This is a straightforward case of negligence and non-compliance resulting in recurring pollution of Bellambi Creek by Wollongong Coal.
“Given the tenuous financial position of Wollongong Coal, we have real concerns about the company’s ability to manage and rehabilitate the site. The Government agencies must prioritise cleaning up and securing this site, and ensuring Wollongong Coal and its parent company foot the bill.”
More than 25 objections have been lodged against the modification, which means a final decision will be made by the Independent Planning Commission, once the proposal is assessed by the Department of Planning.
Documents associated with the modification proposal are available here: http://majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=9183
The EPA’s objecting submission is here: https://majorprojects.accelo.com/public/1891e34218832970d1907597544c4ee3/Environment%20Protection%20Authority