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KOREAN coal developer KEPCO has cleared a major hurdle in the approval process for its proposal to dig large underground and open cut mines in the Bylong Valley.
The Bylong mine has attracted controversy for its potential to impact the historic Tarwyn Park property, where the Andrews family developed the Natural Sequence Farming system since the 1970’s.
Today, the NSW Planning Department recommended the project be approved, with conditions which it said created an acceptable level of impact to the valley, its community and cropping and cattle industries.
To get digging, KEPCO still needs approval from the state’s independent approvals body, the Planning Assessment Commission.
Commonwealth approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is also required, due to potential impacts on threatened species and water resources.
KEPCO’s proposal is for a mine life of 25 years with open cut mining for eight years and underground mining for 19 years, extracting 125 million tonnes of coal at a maximum rate of 6.5mt a year.
NSW Planning’s approval listed a range of concerns, which it said could be addressed by the contingent conditions which it had stipulated in its approval.
Underground longwall mining would cause 1,714 hectares of subsidence which the Department said was “principally” on land owned by KEPCO and in the Bylong State Forest. According to NSW Planning’s assessment, mining would disturb up to 1,160ha of farmland of low to moderate capability and 140ha of land with high agricultural capability.
KEPCO has committed to maintaining and monitoring the natural sequence farming techniques and providing access to external groups for ongoing research, but opponents question the miner’s ability to manage the land to Stuart family’s standard.
KEPCO has obtained sufficient water entitlements to cover the mine’s drawdown on alluvial aquifers, “but may require additional licences associated with the interactions of the mine with the deeper and poorer quality hard rock aquifers at some stage” the NSW Planning said.
But the Primary Industries Department recommended KEPCO be required to demonstrate adequate supply before final approval.
NSW Planning found the project would impact a number of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, including two rock-shelters, a grinding groove, and some sandstone cultural features in the subsidence area with high regional significance.
A rock shelter with high significance lays adjacent to the proposed open cut portion of the mine. NSW Planning said impacts on this site can be managed through “careful” explosions, which are used to form the open cut.
But the Office of Environment and Heritage raised concerns. A regional study into rock art sites is listed in the conditions of approval.
The project would also disturb the Upper Bylong Cemetery, which would require burials to be exhumed.
Natural Sequence Farming
Peter Andrews’s system involves a set of holistic land management principles, which centre on contouring the landscape and water courses to slow water movement, to stabilise erosion, maximise water retention and generate mulching to distribute nutrients.
Soil carbon and moisture profiles were boosted dramatically while Tarwyn was run as a beef production enterprise, as the impact of weeds was neutralised (see gallery).
Peter’s son Stuart ran cattle on Tarwyn Park until KEPCO acquired the property last year.
His cattle trading enterprise for nearly 20 years, running 300 to 500 steers on 450ha. Stuart reports an extra two years of average productivity than his neighbours during the most recent drought – with no irrigation or fertilisers. And he runs courses to educate land managers in the Andrews’ systems.
The property acts a productive sponge for the valley’s groundwater system. Its system of contours and mulch banks capture and slow water flow to soak the floodplain and feed the aquifer which lays at the head of the valley’s chain of alluviums.
Opponents have called on government to issue a heritage order to protect the historic property and have it listed on the State Heritage Register. Last year, a 4,500 signature-strong petition was presented to then Planning Minister Rob Stokes.
Tarwyn Park was formerly a horse stud, home to the burial place of dual Melbourne Cup winner Rain Lover.
Lock the Gate responded to the Department’s approval today.
Bylong landholder Graeme Tanner said the project had already “devastated” the local community.
“They’ve bought up almost the whole Valley and torn the social fabric apart.
“How will those of us that are left behind keep our farms going when they’re sucking the aquifer dry and destroying the landscape?”
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said it was “unfathomable” “to recommend mine approval in an as yet untouched valley.
“The Department’s support for the mine comes despite acknowledging serious impacts on a productive alluvial aquifer, the loss of numerous heritage sites, and risks to the social cohesion of the stunning agricultural valley.”