Member for Wollongong Paul Scully said he's surprised South32's plans to extend its Dendrobium mine have been stopped by the Independent Planning Commission, which ruled the plan was not in the public interest given potential damage to the drinking water catchment.
The miner had been looking to extend the life of Dendrobium through to the end of 2048 and extract an additional 78 million tonnes of coal from two new areas near Avon and Cordeaux dams.
The miner has now said it is "reviewing" the decision, while environmentalists have reacted with jubiliation
South32 had said the expansion was critical to the life of both Dendrobium and the Appin mines, and had warned if it did not win approval, BlueScope's steelworks at Port Kembla could close.
Decision a surprise
Member for Wollongong Paul Scully said the decision was a surprise.
"The IPC's decision to reject rather than place stringent conditions on Dendrobium's application to extend its operations at South 32 will come as a surprise and cause uncertainty for many in the Illawarra, especially for communities that rely on mining and manufacturing," he said..
"This includes miners, steelworkers, Bluescope Steel, local businesses and their workers who will all have serious questions about the implications of this decision given the importance of South 32 in the Illawarra's manufacturing supply chain."
Not in public interest
The Independent Planning Commission decided the risks to the water catchment areas for the Illawarra and Greater Sydney were too great to allow the expansion to go ahead.
"After careful examination of all the evidence and weighing all relevant considerations, the commission has found that the longwall mine design put forward by South32 does not achieve a balance between maximising the recovery of a coal resource of state significance and managing, minimising or mitigating the impacts on the water resources and biodiversity and other environmental values of the Metropolitan Special Area," the Commission's Statement of Reasons for Decision read.
"The level of risk posed by the project has not been properly quantified and based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts - particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and Metropolitan Sydney - it is not in the public interest."
Union says it's 'a blow'
The miners' union said it's "extremely disappointed" South32 has not won permission to extend Dendronium.
"Dendrobium mine is a major employer and part of the lifeblood of our Southern District mining industry," CFMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs said. "It provides the coal for local steel production at Port Kembla."
"This expansion would secure 500 direct mining jobs for decades into the future, create hundreds more in construction and support many more jobs indirectly throughout the region.
"We will review the decision and consult with workers, politicians and the company to determine next steps.
"Today's decision is extremely disappointing. But we certainly won't be giving up our fight for local mining jobs at Dendrobium and across the District."
Miner not giving up yet
South32 did not appear to be giving up on the project, saying it was reviewing the IPC's findings.
"We will continue to engage with key stakeholders including the New South Wales Government and the community in relation to the Dendrobium Mine Extension Project," a South32 spokesman said.
"As outlined during the IPC public hearings, the [project] would provide major economic and social benefits for Wollongong, the Illawarra region and for New South Wales.
"It would support the continued employment of 400 existing personnel and a further 100 personnel once the project is operational. An additional 200 jobs would be created during the construction and development phase."
Environmentalists, however, hailed the decision as "common sense".
Deidre Stuart from the Illawarra's Protect Our Water Alliance. formed specifically to campaign against mining damaging the water catchment, said the group was relieved.
"The decision is the right decision - a decision that listens to the science and evidence, and considers the long-term future for the environment, economy and community in our area," she said.
"We will always need water. And other living species and ecosystems also will always need water. But we will not always need coal.
"In fact, our world's climate is being adversely impacted by rising atmospheric carbon levels, so we must transition so that we manage in the future without coal (and other fossil fuels), and we must do this urgently.
"Approving this project would have made no sense at all."
Call for catchment ban
Nic Clyde from anti-coal group Lock the Gate said the IPC made the right decision and it was time to stop mining in the catchment.
"South32 bullishly refused to even listen to experts who suggested alterations to its destructive mine proposal to make it less damaging, and the company has paid the price as a result," he said.
"South32 put the regional economy of the Illawarra in jeopardy by pushing ahead with a proposal that was clearly unacceptable.
"What we need from Premier Berejiklian and her Planning Minister Rob Stokes is sensible policy to protect the catchment from mining projects like this, so the community doesn't have to go through the conflict and uncertainty that results from weak environmental policy."
More to come
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