Local community split over mine expansion at Wollar

BOYCOTT: Protesters outside the public hearing for the proposed expansion of the Wilpenjong mine near Wollar.

BOYCOTT: Protesters outside the public hearing for the proposed expansion of the Wilpenjong mine near Wollar.

The proposed expansion of the Wilpenjong mine near Wollar is continuing to split the small community.

A public hearing was held at the Mudgee Town Hall on Monday, allowing members of the public to address the Planning Assessment Commission, who are currently considering if the expansion should be given the green light.

Peabody Energy are proposing for the mine to continue operation for an extra seven years on the leased land. The current approval allows the mine to operate for another 10 years, so this extension would take the project until 2033.

A group of around 40 protesters staged a boycott outside the meeting with signs that read  “Public hearings deny your legal rights” and “No right of appeal in court with public hearings… No justice.”

Wollar Progress Association president Bev Smiles organised the boycott, saying the group wanted to highlight the lack of ability to appeal the final decision from the commission.

“We will be sending very detailed submissions against the expansion instead of only being allowed five minutes in-front of three commissioners.

“We’re the first community to boycott a public hearing, mainly to demonstrate to the broader community how biased the planning system is against rural communities,” she said.

Inside the town hall, it was a very different story,  with the majority of the speakers at the PAC hearing using their time to support the mine expansion.

Local residents, businesses and mine workers all made submissions.

Wollar resident Margaret Reid sold her property to the mine when it first opened and used her submission to talk about the benefits of living and working on the land alongside the coal mining operation.

“The mine isn’t the source of Wollar’s decline, it’s simply the case of small villages declining even without mining.

“The mine has spent a lot of money with the school and churches and continue to operate the village shop for the local community.

“As someone that never wanted a coal mine anywhere near Wollar, it hasn’t been the huge problem people make it out to be.”

The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) will consider all submissions on the proposed expansion of the Wilpenjong Mine near Wollar, after a public hearing in Mudgee this week.

It comes after the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) found that the proposed expansion is “approvable” but referred the final decision to the commission.

The department acknowledged that negative impacts of the mine would primarily affect the Wollar community.

However, it found that while the Wilpinjong Extension Project would bring the mine closer to the village and could exacerbate the negative social impacts, the most significant effects have already occurred as a result of the approval of the original mine in 2006, and there is limited scope to reverse these impacts. 

Even if the project was not allowed to proceed, the decline in population was likely to continue, the department concluded. 

Wollar resident Michael Fetch spoke at the public hearing against the expansion saying the nail has been driven into the coffin of Wollar by the comments in the DPE report.

Some locals claim up to 90 per cent of residents have left the village since the mine was approved.

“This mine was approved with a life span and the community were promised of that mining life span,” Mr Fetch said.

“I concede that the Wollar community has been in-decline for quite a while but there has been an aggressive campaign to rid the village of people. It’s not a natural progression.

Wollar Action Group president Bev Smiles said the Wollar community has had some major social impacts that were never predicted or assessed.

“The noise and dust from the mine was so great, the company had to purchase more properties that were being impacted.

Local Mudgee resident Andrew Palmer from The Property Shop is in support of the mining operation saying the region has grown as a result of the mining industry.

“We now have more confidence in the town from external investors.

“The mining expansion will provide additional jobs to the region and secure those already working for the mine,” he said.

A Peabody spokesperson claims the mine currently employs more than 300 employees, with the majority living and working locally.

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