AT least six organisations have called on the state government to think of the farmers battling the drought, and give them more time to have their say on the Vickery coal mine extension.
The exhibition period for Whitehaven Coal’s 4000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has already been extended from 28 days to 42.
But Wando CCC, Namoi Water, People for the Plains, Maules Creek CWA, Lock the Gate and the Greens want it pushed out to 90 days.
However, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) has shut down any talk of a further extension.
Lock the Gate spokeswomen Georgina Woods said the current time constrains faced by farmers were “an unfortunate reality”.
“I can’t see how a few weeks will make or break the project for Whitehaven or the government,” she said.
“But it would make all the difference to the community being heard, and their needs being respected by the Department of Planning and Whitehaven.
“People are hand-feeding stock all day, every day. It does take a fair bit of time to read these large documents and understand the impact the project is expected to have.”
Ms Woods’ comments were echoed by other environmental groups.
“A community struggling with severe drought has to examine and write submissions on 4000 pages of technical and scientific impact statements, in their spare time,” Wando CCC chairperson Patricia Schultz said.
“If we or an impacted local wanted to bring in a hydrologist or another expert to look at and cross reference the impacts, then 42 days simply would not be long enough to make something like that happen,” Namoi Water executive officer Jon-Maree Baker said.
DPE aware of drought impact, but exhibition period stays the same
A DPE spokesperson said it was aware of the impact the drought was having, but would not be drawn on a 90-day exhibition period.
“The Department has extended the normal 28 day exhibition period of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to 42 days to allow the community to have more time to comment on the proposal,” a DPE spokesperson said.
“The Minister for Planning has also requested the Independent Planning Commission to hold a public hearing after the exhibition period closes which will provide further opportunity for community input on the project early in the assessment process.
“The Department will undertake a robust and comprehensive assessment of the project and engage independent experts to provide advice on the water and flood impacts of the project, which are key concerns of the community.
“The Department is aware of the impact the drought is having on farming and rural communities and acknowledges the additional stress this may be causing.”
EIS not the only opportunity: Whitehaven
Whitehaven Coal spokesman Michael van Maanen pointed out the EIS was not the only opportunity for the community to provide feed back.
“We are aware of how drought is affecting the region and how many farmers are doing it tough it at the moment,” he said.
“We do want to ensure people have an opportunity to comment on the EIS and we think NSW Department of Planning’s decision to extend the exhibition period from 28 to 42 days affords that opportunity, especially considering many aspects of the project are understood from its previous iteration.
“It’s also important for people to know the exhibition period does not represent the totality of the opportunity to provide feedback.
“There will be a public hearing in relation to the project and that will provide additional scope for feedback both in person and in writing.”