Another government authority has joined WaterNSW and environmentalists in blasting the Planning Department's recommendation of approval for the Dendrobium coal mine expansion.
The Independent Advisory Panel on Underground Mining (IAPUM) has raised serious concerns over South32's Dendrobium coal mine extension proposal in Sydney and the Illawarra's drinking water catchment.
South32 still needs to gain the approval of the Independent Planning Commission on or before February 8 before it can begin mining in expanded areas of the Dendrobium mine.
South32 is looking to extend mining into two new areas, located adjacent to Avon and Cordeaux dams, which it said would allow for the extraction of an additional 78 million tonnes and extend the mine's life until 2048.
A recently published transcript of a meeting between IAPUM representatives and the Independent Planning Commission shows the Panel was scathing of South32's unwillingness to share key information about its proposal.
IAPUM representatives were also critical of the timeframe allowed for analysis of the proposal, and Covid-19 restrictions prevented them from conducting a full environmental risk assessment.
IAPUM's concerns come after it was revealed WaterNSW was similarly worried about the impact the Dendrobium extension would have on the catchment, with the agency raising concerns it could drain "in the order of 6-7 billion litres each year".
"Under ordinary circumstances, we would fully expect the IPC to reject South32's reckless proposal based on the sheer number and seriousness of concerns raised by IAPUM and WaterNSW," Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said.
"But the IPC's independence was kneecapped by Planning Minister Rob Stokes after its Commissioners dared to go against the government and the NSW Minerals Council and reject the Bylong coal mine.
"We are urging the Commissioners to use their common sense, exercise their independence, and reject this unacceptable proposal and stop it from draining water continually, forever, from the Illawarra-Sydney drinking catchment."
But a South32 spokesman argued there was plenty of support for the project.
He added what's more the NSW government department in charge of analysing and assessing this project believed in its approval and spoke in support of it at the IPC public hearings.
"During public exhibition of the project's Environmental Impact Statement, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment received more than 750 submissions from members of the public, organisations and government agencies. Eighty-one percent of public submissions expressed support for the project," he said.
The spokesman added the Dendrobium Mine Extension Project would provide major economic and social benefits for Wollongong, the Illawarra region and NSW.
"If approved, the project will support the continued employment of 400 existing personnel and a further 100 personnel once the project is operational," he said.
"An additional 200 jobs would be created during the construction and development phase. The project would ensure the continued supply of high quality metallurgical coal for steelmaking. The project is forecast to contribute AU$714 million in royalties, taxes and rates, and deliver a net benefit of AU$2.8 billion to the NSW economy."
South32 has also committed to offset any surface water losses to ensure the project would be a positive contributor to the metropolitan water supply.
"This will include $108 million in payments to the NSW Government to be spent on strategic water conservation and/or supply capital works to enhance Sydney's overall water supply. This offset mechanism has been endorsed by the NSW Government and will ensure there is no loss of water for the metropolitan water supply," the spokesman added.
Read more: Firefighters bring tip fire under control
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.