Panel sifts through arguments

THE people who will decide the fate of Shenhua Watermark’s controversial plan to mine on the Liverpool Plains have left Gunnedah with the considered protestations of dozens of opponents ringing in their ears.

After two days of testimony, the Planning Assessment Commission’s (PAC) eminent panellists retired yesterday to sift through the arguments and consider the recommendations they will make to Planning Minister Pru Goward.

Whatever decision is reached by Gabrielle Kibble, Brian Gilligan and Garry Payne – and it might not be known for several months – it will have a massive impact on those living in and around the Gunnedah Basin.

From the perspective of farmers vehemently opposed to the mine, approval of a plan to extract 268 million tonnes of coal over 30 years will 

render large swathes of highly productive land near Breeza useless. From the perspective of the Chinese mining giant so committed to the project it has spent seven years and $700 million simply getting to this point, refusal would cost the state economy billions in taxes and royalties.

Namoi Water executive officer Jon-Maree Baker, who made her opposition to the project clear when addressing the panel yesterday, said people must understand that the majority of speakers are not opposed to mining.

Rather, she said, they are opposed to open-cut mining on a massive scale in an area of almost unprecedented agricultural value. 

“The landholders presented on the productive value of the land to give the PAC a real understanding of the capacity for this area, with it’s unique combination of soil, climate and rainfall that means they can grow crops all year round,” she said.

“This is the wrong mine in the wrong location.”

Shenhua Watermark has spent $100 million on a raft of water modelling studies it says proves beyond doubt that mining and agriculture can co-exist. No less than 12 government agencies agree.

But plenty of people do not, including groundwater ex- pert Doug Anderson from the University of NSW’s water research laboratory.

He told the panel that, in his opinion, Shenhua’s modelling was so flawed and the impacts of the mine on water so great, that no government-imposed conditions could ease the risk and therefore it must be refused. 

In recognition of the importance of the decision resting on its shoulders, Mrs Kibble announced the panel would seek a fresh round of independent studies to review the project and inform its decision.

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