Landholders and business owners were shocked to learn of Berejiklian Government plans to open new areas of land to coal exploration in the Upper Hunter west of the Blue Mountains during a meeting held in Rylstone on Sunday.
Most of the land parcels locals are concerned about fall within the Upper Hunter electorate boundary (map here), and some locals said they would raise their concerns about Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s potential plans to release them for new coal development to candidates at the upcoming by election.
Mr Barilaro targeted 13 new areas across the state for potential exploration by the coal mining industry as part of his “Strategic Statement on Coal,” announced mid last year (map here).
Two of the three areas of concern to locals at Sunday’s meeting - known as "Hawkins" and "Rumker" - will be the first coal exploration areas to go through the government's new release program, which is expected to kick off in earnest in the coming weeks.
The meeting was organised by Rylstone District Environment Society member Craig Shaw, who previously lived in the nearby Bylong Valley, where the Independent Planning Commission refused to grant approval for a coal mine two years ago.
Mr Shaw said, “The main reason we organised this meeting was to put the local landholders front and centre, and to provide them with information and connection. It can be very daunting to discover your place has been offered up for coal exploration.
“The experience of Bylong Valley shows that everyone can avoid a lot of heartache and expense by protecting landscapes, communities and rural economies right at the early stage before exploration gets going.
“These potential coal land releases were announced in the middle of last year and few people had heard about them until we organised this meeting.
“A substantial majority of those landholders attending come from the Upper Hunter electorate, and with a by election on, this is a good time for locals to get their concerns heard by politicians.”
Public health academic and Coxs Creek resident Heike Schütze, who has played a leading role in advocating to governments for recovery efforts after the bushfires said, “Residents here have been battling one thing after another - drought, fires, floods, the pandemic.
“Trauma, recovery and resilience are inextricably linked; we need to concentrate on our recovery and resilience, and not have our attention diverted by this new threat of coal mine exploration.”
Janet Walk, who owns an accommodation business Camp Hill Cottage near Rylstone, said she hoped the meeting would send a clear message to the NSW Government that locals did not want the coal industry to expand into their region.
“The biggest threat to the economy here is mining, because we would lose all those jobs in tourism and hospitality which sustain this region,” she said.
“By allowing the coal mining industry to encroach into these previously untouched areas, the NSW Government is saying coal mining businesses are more important than my business.
“The main reason we attended the meeting is to let the NSW Government know people want the environment to still be here for our grandchildren. We are on the cusp of renewable energy replacing coal and I don’t want our beautiful district to be sacrificed for politics and profits.”
Sue and Steve Baglin, who have lived on the Bylong Valley Road since 2012, said their property was their own little piece of peace and they didn’t want to leave.
“It’s the place of our dreams, we plan to spend the rest of our lives here and possibly hand it down to our kids and hope they do the same thing,” Mrs Baglin said.
“It’s an amazing lifestyle here, and I can’t see how the government thinks its right to allow coal companies to come in and rip it all up.”
A photo from the meeting is available here.