The NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), a statutory body established under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act in November 2008, has recommend that Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine extension should proceed as planned.
However, The Commission’s report has found that the mine’s extension could adversely impact the nearby village of Bulga – located just 3 kilometres off the enlarged mine site – and noted that the option to relocate the entire village should be given “serious consideration”.
According to The Guardian Australia, the report examines several possibilities to mitigate the problem stemming from the mine extension, including compensating residents if they decide to sell their properties or if the village is relocated to an unspecified area to escape the noise and dust of the coalmine.
“Such relocations are undertaken already in dam approvals. Any relocation decision and associated planning would, of course, need to involve the residents of Bulga,” the report states.
“It is recognised that this option is not an approach that would generally be considered, however the commission believes that in this instance there are a unique and unusual set of circumstances that make it worthy of serious consideration.”
PAC said the possibility of relocation has not yet been canvassed with Bulga’s 350 residents, adding that such an outcome would be funded by taxpayers and Rio Tinto.
However, relocation plans are likely to be met with stern resistance from locals. Paul Harris, a local miner living in Bulga, described the notion of relocating the entire village as “plain stupidity”.
“I think the PAC is really out of touch, this village is a sprawl, I’m not sure how you’d relocate everyone. I’ve been in Bulga all my life, I haven’t bloody blown in for bloody work. We used to use small gear and noise would never be a problem but now we’ve got to endure dust and noise every day for years, apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day,” Mr Harris said.
“I can’t sit out in my back yard and enjoy a beer because of the noise. The dust is a shocker, I can’t filter it out of my pool. Yesterday, we couldn’t even see the hills because of the dust. If this process gets the green light, we are resigned to moving. I love my place here, I built it to stay here for the next generations but it’s being destroyed. When they blow the rocks up, the ground movement is like living in bloody Christchurch or something.”
According to the report, the extension will involve the digging up of a further 230m tonnes of coal over a 21-year period, which would account for 10% of NSW’s total volume of export coal. It is estimated that the operation would swallow up 698 hectares, including 459 hectares of endangered ecological habitat.
However, the report also points to the economic benefits of the project, stating it would safeguard 1,187 jobs over the next 14 years and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties during its lifetime.
The approval of the mine development is still under consideration by the NSW Government. A Rio Tinto spokesman told The Guardian Australia that the company had received 2,000 submissions from locals requesting that the mine extension goes through, but declined to comment on the viability of moving Bulga until the Government makes its decision.