Hume Coal mine gets damning assessment from NSW Government department over groundwater fears
The Hume Coal project in the NSW Southern Highlands would involve mining on farmland, including the Evandale property. (ABC News: Philippa McDonald)
A NSW Government department has raised grave fears about plans for a new coal mine south of Sydney, predicting groundwater impacts that are unparalleled in the state.
The Hume Coal project would involve mining up to 3.5 million tonnes of coal a year over 19 years, near Berrima in the Southern Highlands.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment received almost 13,000 submissions, the vast majority of which objected to the mine on environmental grounds.
Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes, Archibald Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty and singer Leo Sayer were among high-profile local residents who voiced their opposition to the project.
The department has now recommended that the mine, and an associated $37 million rail project, be refused.
In a statement, the department said the mine’s economic benefits were not likely to outweigh its impacts on the environment and community.
“The department considers there is currently considerable scientific uncertainty about the level of environmental damage to both groundwater and surface water resources,” the statement read.
“The predicted drawdown impacts on the groundwater aquifer would be the most significant for any mining project that has ever been assessed in NSW.”
Water scientist ‘pleasantly surprised’ by report
Dr Ian Wright, one of Australia’s leading water scientists, said the department’s move was “unprecedented” and sent a clear message about mining in Sydney’s drinking water catchment.
“We can’t make any more drinking catchments — we’re so lucky to have them — but once you put a mine in, every single one I study causes pollution for ever and ever,” Dr Wright said.
“So this is just going to avoid yet another major pollution source that possibly we’ll pass onto our grandchildren.”
Musician Jimmy Barnes is among a number of high-profile local residents who have opposed the mine. (Audience submitted: Kate Ausburn)
Battle for Berrima president Michael Verberkt said he was long doubtful of the mine’s merits and said the economic benefits had been “way overblown”.
“There are some huge question marks over safety standards regarding that type of mining where it has been done in other countries overseas, so I think sanity has prevailed,” Mr Verberkt said.
“We’re so close to Sydney, so close to 5 million people who rely on the water that’s partially harvested and gathered in this area and ends up in Warragamba Dam.
“We’ve just seen the effects of dry weather and drought, so water is more important than ever.”
Hume Coal spokesman Ben Fitzsimmons said he was disappointed and somewhat surprised by the department’s decision.
“And the ultimate decision will be made by the Independent Planning Commission, a panel established to undertake independent and unbiased assessments,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.