Health and environmental concerns have driven the small community of Bulga in the Hunter Valley to launch a landmark court challenge against the expansion of a coal mine today in Sydney, testing the NSW Government’s mining policy.
The community’s legal challenge has exposed a hole in the NSW Government’s mining policy and, if successful, will have far reaching consequences for companies trying to ‘offset’ the destruction of native habitat they cause, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW said.
The Warkworth mine extension will allow an additional 18 million tonnes of coal to be mined per year. Controversially, it also allows the mining of part of a biodiversity offset that was legally required to be protected as a condition of a previous approval in 2003.
The Land and Environment Court will hear that the biodiversity offset area, as well as providing important woodland habitat for threatened native animals and plants, also acts as a buffer between the village of Bulga and the coal mine.
The expansion of the Warkworth mine would destroy a conservation offset area guaranteed by a Deed of Agreement by the NSW Planning Minister in 2003, said Pepe Clarke, NCC Chief Executive Officer.
“The Warkworth mine would cut through the only remaining stand of the endangered Warkworth Sand Woodland left in Australia, clearing 765 hectares of native habitat for 17 threatened animals, including the squirrel glider.
“The Warkworth mine extension is a clear case of the failure of the state government’s offset policy to protect threatened species and habitat. There is simply no other location that can compensate for the loss of this irreplaceable wildlife habitat.”
The Hunter Valley is losing vital stands of trees and other vegetation needed for the survival of threatened species, and offsets will never replace them, Mr Clarke said.
“The proposed offsets for destruction of 765 hectare endangered woodlands at Warkworth are over 100 kilometres away from the mine, in a different bioregion, with different geology, soil types and vegetation. No reasonable person could describe this offset as adequate or protecting ‘like for like’.
“The Nature Conservation Council of NSW is calling on the NSW government to protect the remaining Warkworth Sand Woodland area in a nature reserve, where threatened species and their habitat are permanently protected,” Mr Clarke said.