APPROVAL to develop one of Australia’s largest coal deposits has been met with dissent from Traditional Owners amid claims mining would destroy local heritage sites.
Whitehaven Coal received final approval for its $767 million Maules Creek project in NSW last month, and immediately began site preparation works.
However on 8 July, Gomeroi Traditional Owners and non-Aboriginal community members staged a protest outside Whitehaven’s Boggabri office, alleging the company had undertaken an incomplete and disrespectful cultural heritage process.
In a statement on the Maules Creek Community Council website, Gomeroi Traditional Owner Stephen Talbot said the mine would clear more than 4000 acres of culturally significant forest, artifacts and cultural values that hadn’t yet been properly assessed.
“The forest contains cultural heritage sites, food sources, and totems of our people, and most of them will be permanently destroyed by the planned mine,” Mr Talbot said.
“There hasn’t been a proper consultation process, the management plan is flawed and we don’t believe that our people have been treated with proper respect or that our concerns about the destruction of cultural heritage have been addressed.”
When announcing the project’s approval, Whitehaven Coal managing director Paul Flynn said Maules Creek had been through one of the most rigorous planning approvals processes ever undertaken by a mine in NSW, and that it had been reviewed by a wide range of highly regarded environmental experts.
“The project is one of the most significant investments currently underway in regional NSW,” Mr Flynn said.
“It expects to employ 340 full time equivalent employees and contractors in the construction phase and approximately 470 during ongoing operations.”
The Maules Creek mine was granted approval to extract up to 13 million tonnes of coal per annum and rail 12.4mt of product from the site every year, with first coal sales expected in the second half of 2014.
It is set to deliver $1.9 billion in annual business turnover, and $54 million in projected annual household income.
At the time of going to print, the ABC reported that a meeting held between Gomeroi Traditional Owners and Whitehaven was deemed “helpful” by the NSW Department of Planning.
A department spokesperson said Whitehaven would temporarily cease its salvage work to address community concerns, while protestors agreed to stop their picketing activities.
The department planned to formally write to the Gomeroi Traditional Owners within a week of the meeting to advise if any additional measures would be added to the already-approved management plans.