THERE is only one real winner in the story of how the beautiful Bylong Valley between Denman and Mudgee became a battleground over a proposed coal mine.
That winner is mining giant Anglo American, which walked away with $403 million when it sold the exploration licence for Bylong to Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) in 2010.
Certainly the NSW Government can’t count Bylong as a positive, despite whatever it might have made out of selling the original licence. Criticism of the government’s mine assessment process is even stronger than the mine proposal itself.
KEPCO has bought up more than 13,200 hectares of Bylong Valley, including a church, school, general store, iconic property Tarwyn Park, and a large number of other properties. The buy-ups have gagged many who might have maintained the rage, but have walked away dispirited and disillusioned by a process that prioritises coal over communities.
They might have been silenced, but a NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) review of the proposal has shown that just silencing dissent is not enough to overcome the significant problems and risks that were raised by critics of this project almost from the first day.
The NSW Department of Planning has the PAC report for a final decision, but it can be in no doubt that its independent review process has sounded alarm bells about the KEPCO project’s potential negative impacts on the environment.
“The case for the project, particularly those aspects of the project responsible for the most severe impacts, is eroded when impacts and the uncertainty of the proposed mitigation measures are considered together,” the PAC concluded, before warning that a decision-maker would need to carefully consider the risks.
Seven years after KEPCO gave Anglo a $403 million gift, its proposal for a mine is on very shaky ground, it has spent an estimated $100 million on property buy-outs, Bylong Valley has been “depopulated” and a community is largely gone, and the biggest question is – where to from here?
Bylong Valley Protection Alliance spokesman Warwick Pearse talks about the “juggernaut” that occurs once a company has spent so much money on a project. Governments can be pressured.
But it is all too late for Bylong.