Coal cash rejected in battle over road

Social, legal and health issues related to unrestrained expansion of coal mines in Australia.

Coal cash rejected in battle over road

Postby HVPA_research » Mon Sep 26, 2011 11:38 pm


Coal cash rejected in battle over road

23 Sep, 2011 02:04 PM
A FIGHT to save Wallaby Scrub Road, Bulga, from coalmining was shaping up as a battle of biblical proportions.
In a reference to gospel accounts of the price Jesus Christ was betrayed by his disciple, Judas Iscariot, Cr Alison Howlett called on her council colleagues this week to reject an offer of “30 pieces of silver”.

And after extensive debate, councillors unanimously agreed there would be no sellout.

They agreed to restate their unanimous decision of June last year opposing the $600million expansion of Warkworth open-cut and their commitment to protect the road and nearby habitat which includes Aboriginal heritage sites.

Councillors this week also refused to negotiate a “voluntary planning agreement”, worth up to $11million, and will complain to New South Wales Planning Minister Brad Hazzard and Premier Barry O’Farrell, about the way planning department officials appear to be acting as agents for the coalmining company.

Seven kilometre long Wallaby Scrub Road is part of the Great North Road from Sydney to Jerrys Plains which was surveyed in the 1820s by the Australian colony’s surveyor general Sir Thomas Mitchell.

And some of the proposed mine site includes Saddle Ridge, native habitat which was supposed to have been protected by a 2003 ministerial guarantee never to be mined.

Cr Howlett said the coal company’s voluntary planning agreement was simply “30 pieces of silver”.

She said the community had for years clearly stated that it wanted Wallaby Scrub Road, and its environs, saved and it was the council’s responsibility to stick with its June 2010 unanimous decision not to sellout.

Cr Tony McNamara said he was astounded by a letter sent last week by the state government’s mining department director David Kitto to the council’s planning director Mark Ihlein which set out details of the coal company’s voluntary planning agreement.

Cr McNamara said he had never before heard of planning officials acting as agents for coal companies.

Cr McNamara saw the $11million offered for Wallaby Scrub Road as “paltry”, adding that it would have to be “$20million, $30million or $40million before we might start thinking about it”.

Cr Lyn MacBain successfully moved that the council send an urgent letter to Messrs Hazzard and O’Farrell expressing the council’s deepest concerns about communications between government officials and council staff.

When councillors became bogged down by the letter’s wording, council solicitor Daryl Gray made suggestions and agreed to vet the final draft before it was mailed.

Mount Thorley resident Carol Russell told councillors this week that it was up to coal company officials to approach the council to have the 2003 ministerial guarantee enacted, and this had never been done.

She said she believed the council had the final say on whether the road could be closed.

Her view was supported by Mr Ihlein who said the road was under the council’s care and control and he was not aware of any state government department being able to override the council’s decision or compulsorily acquire the road to allow coalmining expansion.

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association spokesman John Krey said his group saw the $11million offer as an inducement to change the mind of councillors.

The offer was farcical as open-cut mining within 2.6 kilometres of the Bulga village would destroy the township and leave no local projects to contribute to, Mr Krey said.

A spokesman for the coal company, Mount Thorley Warkworth operations general manager Cam Halfpenny, said the $11million voluntary planning agreement offer was made “as directed by” the New South Wales planning department.

Details of the agreement tendered to the council this week said the money was subject to the expansion being approved to secure “mining access to the full footprint” of the proposed area.

Mr Halfpenny said the $11million would be on top of compensation to the council for the loss of Wallaby Scrub Road and other economic benefits of the mine.

Mr Kitto said officers of his department expected to finalise assessment of the expansion proposal early next month.

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