Mount Thorley Warkworth mine extension approved

Friday, 06 March, 2015

Rio Tinto has been given the go-ahead on its planned Mount Thorley Warkworth mine extension by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC).

The company was originally granted permission to extend the Hunter Valley mine in 2012, but this was overturned by the NSW Land and Environment Court in April 2013. After appealing the decision, the NSW Supreme Court also ruled that Rio was not allowed to go ahead with the expansion in April 2014.

Current planning approvals mean the mine can only sustain existing production and employment levels until the end of 2015.

The company says the new applications will provide it with an integrated operation which can sustain mining within the existing footprint for the next 30 years. It says the plan means the 1300 employees and contractors who work at the site will have job security.

In its assessment of the project, the PAC said Rio’s plan to extend the life of the mine was consistent with government policy and legislation. However, it said approval is subject to the provision of additional information on a number of matters prior to determination as well as the imposition of stringent environmental requirements.

These include more information around a clear and transparent biodiversity offset strategy to ensure ecosystem and species credit requirements will be met. It is also recommending that Warkworth be required to provide evidence substantiating the viability of the proposed regeneration of important Endangered Ecological Communities and associated costings.

The commission said it recognises that the project will result in adverse social and economic impacts, particularly on the Bulga village and its residents, who are experiencing increasing mining encroachment from these and other mines.

“These impacts are likely to include impacts on property values; on the ability of residents to be able to sell their properties in the future; and environmental concerns, including notably noise and dust impacts,” PAC said.

“In light of these impacts, the commission is of the view that consideration should be given to options to compensate residents and ameliorate as far as practicable these impacts.”

The PAC decision has caused anger in the small Bulga community, which successfully fought Rio’s plans to extend the mine last year in a David and Goliath battle.

The commission noted that the relationship between the miner and the Bulga community has “deteriorated to the level where constructive discussion to resolve issues of significant concern to the community is difficult”.

The commission said Rio “would be well advised” to pursue appropriate initiatives to rebuild its relationship with the local community.

Source: Mining Australia

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