Following an assessment of the Hume Coal Project, the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) has recommended it not be approved.
DPE has completed its comprehensive assessment of the Hume Coal Project and associated Berrima Rail Project and the Minister for Planning has referred the projects to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) for a public hearing.
The department has undertaken a rigorous examination of the proposals, which included seeking independent expert advice on a range of issues, including groundwater, mine design, economics and noise.
At this stage, based on the information available, the department does not consider that the economic benefits of the projects outweigh the likely adverse impacts on the community and environment.
Therefore, the department has found the projects are not in the public interest and should not be approved.
Hume Coal spokesman Ben Fitzsimmons said they were disappointed with the recommendation after the years of “scientific and technical research” which had gone into the project.
“Hume Coal has put forward the lowest impact underground mining plan seen in NSW ever,” he said.
“The impact is less than that of other mines in the state.”
Mr Fitzsimmons said the department had “pandered to the squeaky wheel”.
“A vocal minority has convinced the government there is little support for the project in the region.”
Goulburn MP Pru Goward said the announcement was a “huge win for the community” and reaffirmed the importance of scientific research and “getting the process right.”
“I know it has taken a long time and I know that many people were frustrated by the long nature of the process but, we had to get it right, and the outcome had to be beyond reproach and beyond challenge,” she said.
“That is what has been achieved, I believe, by the department of planning's decision and I welcome the findings.”
A total of 12,666 submissions were received on the project, including more than 5000 submissions from the local area, of which 97 per cent were objections.
Ms Goward acknowledged the efforts of local activist groups, including Battle for Berrima and the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group, for mobilising the community.
“I thank Peter Martin, Alan Lindsay, Ken Wilson and all those from the Battle for Berrima campaign for their passionate and determined opposition and advocacy.”
Wingecarribee Shire Council objected to the project, while key government agencies including the Department of Industry – Lands and Water, the Environment Protection Authority and WaterNSW all raised concerns about impacts on groundwater and surface water.
The Resources Regulator also said the proposed mining method was untested and the mine could be unsafe for workers.
Mr Fitzsimmons said underground mining had taken place in the shire for more than a century and disputed the proposed method would be unsafe.
“This mining method has been used in this region for more than a century. There’s nothing unsafe or untested.”
The department considers there is currently considerable scientific uncertainty about the level of environmental damage to both groundwater and surface water resources.
The predicted drawdown impacts on the ground water aquifer would be the most significant for any mining project that has ever been assessed in NSW.
The Hume Coal Project, near Berrima in the Southern Highlands, proposes to extract up to 3.5 million tonnes of coal each year for 19 years and the associated Berrima Rail Project involves the development of a new rail spur and connecting loop.
The IPC will likely hold the public hearing early in 2019.
It will seek the community’s input to inform its review of the projects.
The IPC will provide its review report on the hearing within eight weeks of the hearing.
All the information relied on in the Department’s assessment and its final report are available on the NSW Major Projects website.