Boggabri farmers are ready to put forward their case to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) on Whitehaven Coal’s proposed mine expansion, with the railway line cited as a major issue.
Public hearings addressing the Vickery extension will take place in Boggabri on February 4 and Gunnedah on February 5 after being postponed in December.
The company says the railway line ticks all the boxes, but among the speakers will be Errol Darley and James Barlow, who live on the western boundary of the proposed extension that would see Whitehaven increase mine extraction from 4.5 to up to 10 million tonnes per annum.
Mr Darley and Mr Barlow have numerous concerns about the extension, including noise and dust, flood mitigation, the proposed railway, and the impact on groundwater and the Namoi River.
Mr Barlow said his property Mirrabinda was the closest to the current mine and he had a “nine-minute speech written” for the hearing.
“We’re in the acquisition zone so if – worst-case scenario – after 50 years of farming history we had to leave because of dust and noise, we would be forced to sell,” he said.
“It would be pretty unfair to put our family in that situation without any agreement.
“I’m not anti-mining, but at the end of the day it’s sort of been foisted upon us.”
Mr Barlow said he had requested plans and designs for the proposed railway “on numerous occasions” but had been told “it can be approved without designs”.
“At this stage we’ve got no designs, they are no plans around it and it’s across the floodplain,” he said.
“It’s certainly a big question point for a lot of people.”
Whitehaven told the NVI the information had been publicly available since September last year and “the project mining area itself is located beyond the Namoi River floodplain and the detailed flood assessment undertaken for the EIS shows the rail spur complies with the all relevant Floodplain Management Criteria”.
“The rail spur will enable us to remove all coal haulage trucks from public highways and, over time, will also lead to the decommissioning of the Gunnedah prep plant on the northern outskirts of town – both of which are great outcomes for the broader local community,” a Whitehaven spokesperson said.
Mr Barlow said he still didn’t understand “why they have to be so close to the river”.
“It’s a huge mine. [Whitehaven] has 70,000 hectares, but they’re starting on their most southern boundary and it’s more than 20 times bigger than the mines in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said.
“We need some kind of balance, but this goes over the edge to the tipping point.”
Mr Darley said he lived “right along the boundary of where the proposed railway line would go” and that was his “biggest concern”.
“Even though I requested information in August on how it will be built, we still haven't received any information on how it will be built,” he said.
“We weren’t consulted whatsoever until the indicative railway line was released.”
Mr Darley said he felt there was a lack of information about Whitehaven’s activities.
“I’m concerned that the tactics of the mine seems to be to release very little information, and even though people live within 2km of all this mine and associated infrastructure, they’re always told they won’t be affected by noise, dust or disruption to groundwater,” he said.
“I think the whole NSW Planning Department hasn’t [foreseen] what the future requirements for the whole district may be, and to allow one company to have access across the river with a private railway line is not in the best interests of the future allocation of coal reserves.”