A LANDMARK agreement designed to promote co-operation between farming outfits and mining operations in the Liverpool Plains has suffered a setback.
Caroona Coal Action Group spokesman Tim Duddy has accused BHP Billiton of breaking the deal by collecting soil samples near his property at Rossmar Park on Thursday.
Mr Duddy, who is also a Gunnedah Shire councillor, maintains that BHP had agreed to wait until after a meeting next week where stakeholders were to discuss the methods for completing an agricultural impact study.
“BHP moved on to a public road in front of my house (on Thursday) to do that exploration without waiting for the discussion about the methodology,” he said.
“We are, of course, incredibly disappointed that they have chosen to disregard the community’s concerns regarding the methodology surrounding the data collection.”
BHP firmly denies any wrongdoing, saying it received approval for the digs from Gunnedah Shire Council – where a motion to support the work was made by Mr Duddy – and advertised the scheduled works.
“As part of its ongoing commitment to community consultation, BHP Billiton has presented information about its soil sampling activities at a number of community meetings, including a field day in late September which gave local stakeholders the opportunity to observe soil samples being taken and to learn more about the process.”
In 2006, BHP subsidiary Coal Mines Australia Limited was granted a five-year exploration licence covering more than 300km around Caroona.
The company is required to submit an agricultural impact report as part of a wider environmental impact statement, which is expected to be lodged in 2015.
Mr Duddy said he was unsure how this week’s events would affect the relationship between the Caroona community and the mining giant.
“There are some conversations that need to be had because the farming community is very concerned about the way that they are structuring their agricultural impact statement,” he said.
“We believe they may be overlooking some of the issues that are vital to our livelihood that would then establish whether we can co-exist or are incompatible.
“If they had waited a week, so we could have a discussion about how we want it to work and how they want it to work, we could have worked through it together.
“I just think it was a very bad decision by the company, who yet again are showing that they will not listen to the community.”