The expansion of South32's Dendrobium coal mine should go ahead as planned with the Government getting a $103 million payment to offset damage to the water catchment, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has been told.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's assessment consultant Howard Reed, a former director at DPIE but now an independent contractor, explained DPIE's conclusions, saying South32 would enter into a planning agreement to pay $103 million to offset damage to the catchment.
He said suggestions to reduce longwall panels' width from 305m would not stop surface cracking and creek damage - but it could leave a "constrained zone" of deep rock which would prevent water leaking into the mine. However this would make calculation of the offset payment complicated.
"As the department sees things, the basis for the offset package would be stripped away and it would presumably be a basis of a zero figure which would then need to be quantified on an annual basis to see whether the constrained zone was being [complied with]," Mr Reed said.
"The department does not see this as a better option or that it should be pursued."
Mine owner South32 says it would have to close both Dendrobium and the Appin mines if it can't expand. It said the lack of a readily available source of metallurgical coal would mean BlueScope's steelworks could close.
Environmentalists say the plans are too aggressive for the sensitive location, and the damage to the water catchment would be too much.
So the heavy-hitters were lined up to speak - South32 Australia boss Jason Economidis, BlueScope's Australian steel products CEO John Nowlan, Illawarra Business Chamber head Adam Zarth and Regional Development Australia Illawarra's Debra Murphy, who warned of the "devastating potential consequences of not approving the project".
Joining them to encourage approval were organisations including Pirtek, SCE Group, and Illawarra Drug Awareness, which receives South32 sponsorship for the Life Education vans.
Environmental concerns were led by Nic Clyde from anti-coal group Lock the Gate, who said the amount of coal BlueScope needed from South32 had been overstated and there had not been enough consideration given to other options.
Mr Clyde said he couldn't understand how 8km north of Dendrobium, at the Russell Vale mine, longwall mining was regarded as too damaging for the water catchment - with this being agreed between DPIE, WaterNSW and the former Planning Assessment Commission.
But at Dendrobium, the less damaging bord and pillar mining method was not being considered, and longwall mining was said to be the only option.
South32 Australia's boss Jason Econimides told the Independent Planning Commission the Dendrobium expansion was not a new project but a "continuation" of a vital economic driver.
"If approved, it's the continuation of 500 jobs in operations and a further 200 jobs in construction; it's continued jobs in the surrounding community; it's around $300 million spent with local businesses; it's confirmed supply of metallurgical coal to the BlueScope steelworks and it's the continued export of coal through the Port Kembla Coal Terminal," he said.
"We are committed to this project and the future of the Illawarra.
"For our people at Dendrobium and across [Illawarra Metallurgical Coal] more broadly ... this is about much more than a job. They are proud of their contribution to the region and the role they play in making sure we are a positive contributor.
"We have learnt a lot over the years - we have listened to our stakeholders and experts and we know what we need to do to meet and exceed our environmental obligations and meet community expectations."
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