CITING doubts about “all aspects” of KEPCO’s plan for a Bylong Valley coal mine, NSW’s expert planning panel has effectively told the mine to have a massive rethink before it sends the application to the Planning Department.
The Department will consider the Planning and Assessment Commission’s (PAC) report before it decides the fate of the mine proposal, which could potentially involve another PAC assessment.
The PAC’s report is littered with references to incomplete or conflicting evidence, signalling a mountain of work for the miner, which had already taken years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing its project pitch.
A range of concerns were raised in public submissions to the Planning Department including unacceptable impacts to the community, agricultural land and water resources, heritage values as well as the visual amenity in the landscape.
The PAC’s report is a departure from the orthodox. Its mining project assessments typically specify areas of insufficient evidence or modelling and detail additional requirements.
But in this instance the PAC has chosen to identified where omissions in KEPCO’s report prevented it from determining if the project had met the required criteria. It will now be up to KEPCO to fill those gaps.
Locals, environmentalists and farm advocates have lobbied against the mine plan, which includes an open cut and underground longwall component, since it was proposed in 2013.
KEPCO says the mine will deliver $314 million net economic benefit and create 470 ongoing jobs during a 20 year mine life, although an independent economic analysis submitted to government placed the economic benefit at $177m.
The mine would dig into the iconic Tarwyn Park property, previously home to the Thoroughbred stud established in 1918, which stabled famous horses including Rain Lover, Heroic and Nuffield.
More recently Tarwyn Park was home to Peter Andrews and his Natural Sequence Farming land management system, until KEPCO took possession of the property in August 2016.
Mr Andrew described Tarwyn Park as a “showcase property” that contains 40 years of know-how to motivate people to value land management.
Natural Sequence Farming centres on restoration of natural water flows – in water course and across the landscape.
The PAC noted the mine’s risk to Bylong Valley’s “small and volatile” groundwater system, which would be impacted when the water table is disturbed from mining.
KEPCO’s Environmental Impact Statement, the major approval document submitted to the Department, said the mine would on pose a risk to groundwater resources under “severe” conditions.
The PAC sad it was “difficult to accept” KEPCO’s assertion, and noted “significant uncertainty” over the the consequences of impacts to water resources.
Community impacts had been overlooked by KEPCO’s social study, which is required under the planning process.
The study had poor engagement with residents and contained “little discussion” on community health impacts, such as dust and noise from the mine.
The PAC noted public submissions which said a “skeleton” of the former community, 100 people, remained in the valley. They felt a sense of loss as the community had “disintegrated”, largely because of KEPCO’s property acquisitions.
“Great care” was needed to arrive at a balanced decision on the competing interests and land uses in the valley, the PAC said.
The PAC noted potential impacts to off-site farmland and said it was not satisfied there was good evidence of rehabilitated mined land to being returned to equivalent productive capacity.
It also said the risk of the mine being wound up before its projected life should be weighed against the impacts to competing land uses and socio-economic impacts.
KEPCO has acquired about 13,000 hectares that the PAC said is “in large part” productive agricultural land, including 8000ha adjoining the project site.
There is about 2000ha zoned as Equine Critical Industry Cluster land (deemed to be particularly productive for an industry) within the project site., which also covers 1700ha of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land (BSAL) - classed as top quality soil for high levels of agricultural production.
The mine would disturb about 1160ha of agricultural land, including 700ha of Equine CIC and 440ha BSAL, 450ha arable land and 694ha grazing.
The PAC was concerned about visual impacts, noting the mine would create an “irreversible” transformation on the landscape.
It also noted uncertainty over the potential for mine water discharge and how mine void, left after the open cut component was complete, would impact surrounding groundwater.
Interestingly, the PAC said the cost of greenhouse emissions, and traffic accidents caused by increased road traffic to the mine, should be weighed against the mine’s benefits.
It also highlighted submissions that raised uncertainty over projections of future coal prices and South Korea’s demand for thermal coal to generate electricity (KEPCO is a Korean-owned power utility and the mine would supply its generators back home).
KEPCO will respond the PAC’s report, before the Department considers the evidence and makes a final determination on the project.