Wollongong Coal use of council land near golf course may cost ratepayers

COAL VISTA: The emplacement area (pictured here before 200,000 tonnes of coal were loaded onto it, sits high above Bellambi Lane.
COAL VISTA: The emplacement area (pictured here before 200,000 tonnes of coal were loaded onto it, sits high above Bellambi Lane.

Ratepayers could end up footing a rehabilitation bill while mining company Wollongong Coal gets part of a golf course, courtesy of a complex land deal from the past, a new Wollongong City councillor fears.

The Russell Vale colliery has been using council-owned land to “emplace”, or store, waste coal, with about 200,000 tonnes of it there now.

At Monday’s council meeting Greens councilor Mithra Cox will move for a briefing on this situation and why council has failed to obtain a security bond owed to it by Wollongong Coal.

Cr Cox also wants the briefing to include the details of a land use deal – which the Mercury understands goes back decades to previous owners of the mine.

DEALS FROM THE PAST: Greens councillor Mithra Cox will seek answers at Monday's meeting of Wollongong City Council.

DEALS FROM THE PAST: Greens councillor Mithra Cox will seek answers at Monday's meeting of Wollongong City Council.

In return for the use of the “emplacement area”, council got part of the mine’s land, which has now become part of the Russell Vale Golf Course, the Mercury has been told.

The land swap arrangement was supposed to have been formalised but has not been formally dedicated, raising the concern that if Wollongong Coal goes out of business and can’t fund rehabilitation of the site, the swap would revert.

Ratepayers would be left with a chunk of land covered in waste coal, while the part of the golf course which still belongs to the mine would be treated as an asset of Wollongong Coal’s.

“Wollongong council owns some land that the mine is using as a stockpile for waste material, and the mine owns some land that is part of the golf course,” Cr Cox said.

“As a consequence, council owns part of the slag heap and the coal mine owns part of the golf course.

“There is cause for concern that council may be left with a large stockpile of waste material and seriously degraded land, while the mine owns the golf course, which council has been maintaining over many years.”

More than a year ago the Mercury pursued answers from the council about the land and the deposit.

“Council and Wollongong Coal – and its predecessors – have explored different opportunities for a land-swap between the parties for a number of years, since Wollongong Coal is occupying land owned by council,” a spokeswoman said last year.

“Council has also pursued a straight transfer of the land. The options have been complicated by an earlier third party involved in a dispute with Wollongong Coal.”

Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining member Gavin Workman said the process for dedicating the land should not have taken so many years to get completed.

“The material should never have been put there,” Mr Workman said.