Minister for Natural Resources Rachel Nolan.
Minister for Natural Resources Rachel Nolan. Claudia Baxter

Debate on coal mine plan

A CENTRAL Highlands coal mine was always going underground, despite a state minister yesterday claiming its approval had been partly based on a “concession” by the miner to change it from open-cut to underground.

An investigation by The Morning Bulletin has revealed plans by coal mining applicant Bandanna Energy for its Springsure Creek mine, dated to November 27, 2008, refer to the project only as an underground mine.

This was despite Minster for Natural Resources Rachel Nolan yesterday claiming on ABC Radio that the company had “significantly” changed its plans from an open-cut mine to an underground proposal.

Grain farmer Andrew Bate, who is fighting the proposal, said: “This State Government is just drooling over the mining royalties – so much so, they are willing to over-ride their own policy to help protect the State's best agricultural land.”

The Springsure Creek project sits in an area mapped as being protected under strategic cropping land (SCL) policy, which aims to protect the State's best farming land.

The project holds a JORC resource of about 324Mt of raw thermal coal at a depth of more than 200 metres.

It has attracted recent attention because the Government approved the proponent's Terms of Reference for its environmental impact statement (EIS) three days after a deadline for approvals under the SCL policy.

Ms Nolan has previously stated the project would be subject to “strict transitionary arrangements”, but would not be assessed under the SCL policy, which has angered farming families in the area.

While the Minister refused to answer questions relating to what changes had been made to the application, her office released a written statement yesterday.

It said: “While Bandanna may have contemplated an underground mine in the past, the critical point here is that they confirmed that approach through the strategic cropping land process.

“Government stands by the decision to let Bandanna proceed to the EIS stage of its development.”

At least five documents filed by Bandanna Energy with the Australian Stock Exchange list the Springsure Creek proposal as a “potential underground mine”. Some predate the first announcement of government plans to create the SCL policy by more than 12 months.

Mr Bate said: “We were disgusted by the Minister's comments. Anybody who knows anything about this project knows it has always been an underground mine.

Bandanna Energy has said in past announcements that it “has embraced the intent of any future SCL policy.”

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