MUSWELLBROOK and Upper Hunter shire councils have told the planning department about their concerns over the possible reopening of Dartbrook underground mine, while stopping short of opposing the project.
Australian Pacific Coal applied earlier this year to reopen the former longwall mine as small bord-and-pillar operation, aiming to produce no more than 10 million tonnes of coal a year over 10 years, with a maximum in any one year of 1.5 million tonnes.
Submissions to the company’s environmental assessment have been put on display by the planning department and they show the two councils raising a number of environmental and economic concerns over the mine.
Muswellbrook council says “many other” mines in its local government area, including Mt Arthur, Mangoola and an extension of Bengalla, were “not contemplated” when Dartbrook was approved, meaning that “any assessment of cumulative environmental and social impacts completed for the original proposal is now out of date and unreliable as a predicator of impact”.
It raises dust concerns over Dartbrook’s intention to sell unwashed or “run-of-mine coal”, noting that the environmental assessment “generally doesn’t consider the impacts of the mine beyond the immediate boundaries of the site”.
The council also raises questions about predicted dust levels based on 24-hour averages, saying this measure “has the unintended consequence of obscuring issues of elevated dust levels at night”. It says not enough is known about the human health impacts of high dust levels at night and calls on the NSW government to fund a study on the subject.
Upper Hunter council says it’s “concerned” that the bord-and-pillar application is “part of a much larger plan . . . for a new open-cut mine”.
It says the underground mine is unlikely to be economically viable given the low volumes of coal to be produced. It ask whether the company has “a genuine interest” in the underground mine or whether it is “simply buying time” to develop the open-cut.