Tiny Bulga wins day against mining Goliath
The tiny NSW town of Bulga has won a three-year battle against mining giant Rio Tinto when a court overturned a state government-endorsed decision to allow it to dig an open-cut coalmine next to the town.
A Rio Tinto subsidiary, Coal & Allied, had been granted approval to mine bushland next to the town which had been created as an ”offset” a decade ago. It was to have created 150 mining jobs and extracted 18 million tonnes of coal a year, in the community of 300 people.
In a scathing judgment, Justice Brian Preston, chief judge of the Land and Environment Court, criticised the government’s approval of the proposed Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley, which he said could damage Bulga’s ”sense of place”.
Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said he was seeking legal advice on what action might be available to the government. Rio Tinto said the community’s ability to challenge the government’s decision was ”significantly obstructing investment and job creation in NSW”.
The challenge was brought by the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, representing the views of most of the town’s residents, with help from the Environmental Defender’s Office of NSW.
The publican at Bulga’s only hotel said she awoke on Monday to a text message that read: ”Bulga is safe”.
Margueritte Hannaberry, who owns the Cockfighter Creek Tavern on Putty Road with partner Paul Burgess, said the pub was in the acquisition zone for the proposed mine, meaning it would have to have been sold.
”Everyone on the progress association is over the moon. It’s a massive relief,” she said. ”We’ve got a lot of happy people who were born and bred in Bulga.”
Mr Burgess said the mine would have destroyed the town. ”The town would have been fairly uninhabitable anyway, cut off from Jerrys Plains and Denman and really a shell of itself.”
In his judgment Justice Preston said he was not persuaded by the economic analysis offered by the company. ”The project’s impacts would exacerbate the loss of sense of place, and materially and adversely change the sense of community, of the residents of Bulga and the surrounding countryside,” he said. ”I am not satisfied that the economic analyses relied on by Warkworth and the minister have addressed these environmental and social factors adequately.”
The mine would have had ”significant and unacceptable” effects on plants and animals, and would generate serious levels of dust and noise, the judgment said.
It was to have removed a nearby ridge, wiping out a quarter of the remaining Warkworth Sands Woodland, a refuge for endangered plants and animals.
The acting managing director of Coal & Allied, Darren Yates, said in a statement: “The fact it has now taken 3½ years to get an outcome on this project – and that it can be overturned notwithstanding a rigorous government process – shows that the planning system is failing to deliver timely and predictable outcomes.
”This outcome is a blow to our plans for the Mount Thorley Warkworth mine and the jobs of the 1300 people who work there, at a time when the Australian coal industry is struggling to remain globally competitive.” The new mine, which would have added to Coal & Allied’s existing operation in the area, would have created 150 more permanent jobs, the company said.
The mine was approved in February last year after being considered by the NSW Planning Commission and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.