The fate of the Bylong Coal Project is now in the hands of the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) after over 50 people voiced their views on the proposed mine at their public meeting.
Speaking out against the project was Lock the Gate Alliance, spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “people have come here today - not only from the Bylong Valley, the Mudgee area and Central West – from all over NSW, because they share a love for the Bylong Valley and wish to save it from being spoiled by a coal mine”.
“It’s an outstandingly beautiful, rich and productive landscape, it’s not an appropriate place to have a coal mine,” she said. “That’s the concern that people share and the value they place on agriculture and heritage is reflected in the number of people who have come here today.
“We want to highlight the profound concern that local landholders have about the dramatic consequences this mine will have for their water resources, which are highly constrained, over allocated and fragile, and there are concerns that the aquifer simply can’t withstand the amount of water extraction this mine will have. It’s also about the agricultural land that’s going to be ripped up for the open cut mine, we’ve gone to the trouble of mapping strategic agricultural land and now we’re proposing to dig an open cut mine straight into it – it just doesn’t make any sense.
“The Planning Commission will consider what’s been said and they will make the final determination about whether or not this mine will succeed, we are certainly calling on them to make good on their name Independent Planning Commission and turn away from the government’s recommendation that this mine be approved and save the Bylong Valley from being spoiled by coal mining.”
It’s the second such meeting in as many years, after the then Planning Assessment Commission rejected the plans in their 2017 review. The project has been revised and was green lit by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and referred it to the IPC.
Bylong Coal Project chief operating officer Bill Vatovec said, “KEPCO has listened carefully to the local community, the council and government agencies and made significant changes to the project”.
“We have come a long way since May last year, when the at-the-time Planning Assessment Commission undertook its review of the project,” he said.
“The 2017 review identified areas of uncertainty and others requiring clarification, which we have addressed comprehensively with expert technical analysis and information. One of the most significant concerns raised related to the impacts on Tarwyn Park, earlier this year following input from the Heritage Council the Department of Planning advised KEPCO that revisions to the mine plan would be required to remove mining operations from Tarwyn Park and further revisions were needed to minimise visual impacts in the Upper Bylong Valley. Our revised mine plan achieves these two objectives.”
Mr Vatovec went on to say this also reduces; the duration of open cut mining; the total coal to be extracted; overburden material; and 113Ha from the project disturbance area. Which in-turn reduces visual impact and retains; the wooded ridge line that was previously to be mined; the former Catholic Church and cemetery will be retained; and horse burial sites. He said, “these changes will lead to a small reduction in jobs”, but assured that the employment and the economic benefit to the region will be “very significant”.
And it was these expected jobs, 650 at peak construction and up to 450 at peak production, which was the common theme among those speaking in favour of the project.
Including Peter Shelley, as a resident of the Rylstone-Kandos area, who said in that corner of the region “there is no hope for employing the majority of our youth locally”.
“The last 10 years has seen a dramatic loss of employment and business closures, we lost a major employer in Kandos when the cement works closed and Charbon colliery in 2014 with the contractor Big Rim going into liquidation,” he said. “And with a combined population of approximately 1800 people both Kandos and Rylstone have suffered.”
“The only industry even on the horizon to assist our towns is KEPCO, we are not talking prosperity just yet, just a chance to gain back what we have already lost.”
The proposed project is to extract thermal coal for use in South Korea. So Australia’s and Korea’s commitment to addressing climate change was also raised.
Environmental scientist and writer Dr Haydn Washington, speaking at the protest, said, “we’re burning too much coal already and the International Panel on Climate Change, a bunch of very conservative scientists I might say, have actually underestimated climate change and has now made it crystal clear that if we want to avoid moving towards runaway climate change we need to get out of coal by 2050”.
“The alternatives are there, renewable energy, so we don’t need this mine, we don’t need to keep burning coal when it’s going to make the lives of future Australians and our wonderful natural heritage so much harder.”
Mr Vatovec said that even though Korea is moving to more renewables they’re in “a transitional period”, which is expected to carry on into the mid-century.
“What they’re constructing and continuing to operate for the next 30 to 50 years is what they call ‘high energy low emission, super critical boilers’ and they need this specific coal type to be used,” he said.
“Korea is very similar to other Tier 1 nations such as Australia where they are moving towards renewables, but at this point of time it’s a transitional period, so they’ve still got powerplants that are utilising coal, natural gas, and uranium.
“The life of this project is two years of construction and 23 years of operation, so we’ll fit within those boundaries.”
However, in reports in the Korean media last month, minister of trade, industry and energy Sung Yun-mo spruiked the government's energy transformation roadmap, which aims to nearly triple the ratio of renewable energy by 2030.
The Independent Planning Commission will accept written comments on the proposal up to one week after the public meeting (Wednesday, November 14, 2018).