The Queensland Land Court has ruled against an environmental group’s challenge to a proposed coal mine on the Fraser Coast.
The Aldershot and District Against Mining Group (AADAM) challenged the approval of New Hope Group’s proposed Colton coal mine, about 10 kilometres north of Maryborough, based on concerns around dust, noise pollution and the disposal of water from the mine into the nearby Mary River.
But in a judgement laid down in Brisbane on Thursday, the Land Court ruled in favour of New Hope, recommending that the Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles approve the application to develop the mine.
In an earlier hearing in August, New Hope’s barrister Damien O’Brien QC told the court that the water from mine would be “chemically benign” and could only be discharged when there is significant flow in the river as required under the Environmental Agreement.
Moreover, Mr O’Brien QC stressed that the water discharged into the river would be rainwater that falls into the mine site and collected in a dam, not the water used to wash coal.
In terms of dust pollution affecting the more than 1,000 residents who live in Aldershot, several kilometres away from the proposed mine site, the Land Court heard testimony from air quality expert Simon Welchman.
When questioned about whether the levels of heavy metals present in the coal dust could contaminate rainwater supplies, Mr Welchman testified that “the levels are not likely to go anywhere near drinking water guidelines” and that “the data says it won’t occur and I can’t see how it would occur.”
But in a small victory for AADAM, the Land Court placed tighter restrictions on the amount of noise the proposed mine site would be permitted to generate.
Land Court’s judgement fails to ease environmental concerns
President of the Aldershot and District Against Mining Group, Brian Linforth, said while the Land Court’s judgement was not unexpected, he remained “bitterly disappointed.”
“This has gone on so long, people have, to some extent, given up on it and it’s very hard to get enthusiasm for it — I for one am maxed out.”
Mr Linforth said AADAM has spent between $40,000-$50 000 and six years fighting the proposed mine, and that now it was up to the State Environment Minister Steven Miles to consider the project.
“My group is obviously exhausted in what we’ve done and I don’t know what sort of fight we can put up from here.”
Spokesperson for the Wide Bay Burnett Protection Alliance, Vicki Perrin, said she was “disgusted with the judgement”, describing the Mary River, which runs into the Great Sandy Strait off the Fraser Coast, as an internationally significant environment.
“This area is way too precious to be opened up to the industrialisation that an open cut coal mine would bring,” she said.
“It’s absolutely not over,”
“The Minister for the Environment, Steven Miles, now has the capacity to put into, to set conditions for the EA (Environmental Agreement), or ask that New Hope amend the EA, and what we want is that any discharge from that mine must be treated before it’s put into the Mary River system,” she said.
Significant economic benefits on the cards for the Fraser Coast
A spokesman for New Hope Group declined to comment on the Land Court judgement but did issue a brief written statement.
“New Hope Group is pleased with the Land Court’s recommendation that the Colton coal mine be granted a Mining Lease.”
“This is just one step of the approvals process and we now look forward to the Minister’s final decision.”
In documents submitted to the Land Court, New Hope estimated that the Colton coal mine would produce approximately $80 million worth of coking coal per annum, with a total production value of $800 million over the life of the project.
Approximately 5 million tonnes of coking coal could be extracted from a 350 hectare area.
New Hope estimates that 120 employees would be required during the construction of the mine, totalling around $32 million worth of wages.
A further 120 full-time positions would be created once the mine is at full production.
New Hope also estimates that the taxes paid to federal, state and local Governments from the project, would total more than $17.5 million per annum.