CSG project triggers community hostility

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission will hold a public meeting in Helensburgh next month to hear community feedback on an application to extend drilling approval for 16 coal seam gas exploration wells on water catchment land in the area.

Apex Energy received planning permission to drill the holes around Darkes Forest and Maddens Plains in September 2009. However, the consent carried a three-year time-limit.

Apex lodged a request with NSW Planning for a three-year extension of the expiry date in August last year, a month before the original approval period ended.

The application triggered 237 public submissions, the majority of which objected to the proposal. Many residents expressed concerns that gas mining in sensitive water catchment areas could affect the region’s drinking water.

NSW Planning has recommended the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) approve the extension despite the community objections.

A notice posted on the commission’s website this week confirmed a public meeting would be held in Helensburgh on Wednesday, February 13, ‘‘due to the level of public interest’’ in the application.

Wollongong councillor Greg Petty told the Mercury he planned to lodge a notice of motion at the first council meeting of the year to have council staff address the two-man assessment panel on behalf of ratepayers.

He said the council had previously voted to oppose any CSG exploration or mining in water catchment areas.

‘‘Making a public statement to this meeting will reinforce the council’s previous stand against mining in water catchment areas,’’ he said.

‘‘The community has been vocal and proactive in showing its opposition to CSG mining, through the Sea Cliff Bridge walk and the human sign on Austinmer Beach.

‘‘[The] council needs to show it supports the community’s stance, and will stand up and speak out on behalf of ratepayers.’’

Cr Petty said he hoped neighbouring councils would also have speakers.

The meeting is  at Helensburgh Workers Club  at 2pm.  To register to speak, visit www.pac.nsw.gov.au.

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