NSW govt to take Warkworth to court

THE New South Wales Department of Planning and Infrastructure has commenced prosecution proceedings in the Land and Environment Court against Coal & Allied’s Warkworth mine over excessive dust levels.
NSW govt to take Warkworth to court NSW govt to take Warkworth to court NSW govt to take Warkworth to court NSW govt to take Warkworth to court NSW govt to take Warkworth to court

A dragline at Rio Tinto's Mount Thorley Warkworth operation.

Lou Caruana

The department alleges Warkworth failed to comply with a number of its conditions of consent in relation to minimising dust during high winds on September 5, 2012.

The litigation comes as Coal & Allied is joined by state Planning Minister Brad Hazzard in appealing a Land and Environment Court decision blocking a proposed expansion of the Warkworth-Mt Thorley complex.

“The proceedings are in their early stages and Warkworth is yet to enter a plea,” DPI said in a monthly compliance report from its Singleton office.

The next court date is June 21, 2013.

“It is important to Coal & Allied that we meet our regulatory conditions and we are disappointed to have recorded this noise breach,” a Coal & Allied spokesperson said.

“We will continue to work closely with our neighbours and the New South Wales government as we improve the way noise is managed at Mount Thorley Warkworth mine.

“Coal & Allied confirms that it has received a summons from the Department of Planning and Infrastructure in relation to the conditions imposed upon Mount Thorley Warkworth by the 2012 development consent, which has since been overturned by the Land & Environment Court.

“The summons relates to alleged dust emissions on 5 September 2012.”

Air quality across the Hunter Valley was being affected by dry and windy weather conditions at this time but Coal & Allied said Mount Thorley Warkworth mine took a range of steps to minimise dust, including shutting down equipment and increased use of water sprays.

It said Mount Thorley Warkworth mine had implemented a range of initiatives to improve noise and dust management, including continuing to progress the noise attenuation of its mining fleet and regular noise monitoring of mobile plant and equipment as well as operating continuous noise monitors to allow real-time modification of mining equipment to maintain compliance with regulatory noise conditions.

It is also using quieter equipment in noise-sensitive areas and adjusting mine activity for day and night conditions, according to the company.

The mine has also attracted the attention of the DPI for noise violations.

On April 10, 2013, the department issued a $3000 penalty notice to Mt Thorley Operations for attended noise monitoring results exceeding the compliance limits at its Mt Thorley-Warkworth mine.

In the early morning of March 13 the mine’s attended noise monitoring indicated noise levels in the Bulga area to be up to five decibels above those specified within the approval for the mine.

Coal & Allied will appeal the decision by the Land and Environment Court to halt the expansion of its Warkworth project.

Coal & Allied lodged its appeal in the Supreme Court against the NSW Land and Environment Court’s decision to overturn the 2012 development consent for the Warkworth extension project.

Coal & Allied acting managing director Darren Yeates said the company was forced to make a thorough review of future operations and employee numbers at Mount Thorley Warkworth after the Land and Environment Court decision.

“The unfortunate reality is this decision has come at a time when the Australian coal industry is struggling to remain globally competitive in the face of high costs, a strong Australian dollar and low prices,” he said.

“Mount Thorley Warkworth mine has been working to strengthen its long-term viability by reducing costs throughout this year.

“Regrettably, 40 employees and contractors are either having their position made redundant or being let go from the site today, as part of this ongoing work.”

The Warkworth extension project is the continuation of operations at Mount Thorley Warkworth mine, within the footprint of Coal & Allied’s existing mining tenements.

The existing consent expires in 2021 and the extension would allow mining to continue until 2033.

On existing production rates of around 12 million tonnes per annum, it would produce around 264Mt.

The NSW Department of Planning recommended approval and then referred the project to the independent Planning Assessment Commission, which conducted public hearings before approving the project on behalf of the NSW government in February 2012.

“The court’s decision is without precedent in New South Wales,” Yeates said.

“It overturns a three and half year approval process where the project secured approvals from the relevant state government regulators, the independent Planning and Assessment Commission and the Commonwealth government.”

DPI’s Singleton office received 27 complaints during April, including 23 for noise, two for blasting and two for dust.

The noise complaints came primarily from Bulga residents.

“These complaints have been followed up by more noise monitoring carried out by the department’s compliance officers,” DPI said.