NSW Farmers representative Mitchell Clapham didn’t mince words at the Independent Planning Commission hearing into KEPCO’s proposed coal mine in the Bylong Valley last week.
Association conservation resource management committee member Mr Clapham’s frustration was palpable.
“The overarching reason we are here today is the complete and abject failure of government planning processes when it comes to extractive industries’ development of state significant projects,” Mr Clapham said.
“The fact that this room is packed with both sides at loggerheads is a clear example of the continued failure of these processes.
“It is inexcusable to think that it should ever have come to this.”
Mr Clapham said agriculture was not a priority for government when it came to major mining proposals.
“We feel it is worth taking the opportunity to point out a number of severe deficiencies with government policies and indeed, quite shocking examples of the abuse of government power in order to achieve a favourable outcome for resource development.” He said there was a real lack of regulatory teeth when it came to aquifer interference. In 2008, in an attempt to recognise and safeguard the contribution of agriculture to NSW, the rural lands State Environmental Planning Policy had been introduced, said Mr Clapham.
He said this legislation provided solutions if there existed political will to protect agricultural land, as it included the notion of “state significant agricultural land”. He said to date no land has been declared under the SEPP as having state significance.
“One would argue however, the intention to protect these lands was always there, but has been greatly overshadowed by the pursuit of mineral resources that lie under these lands at any and all costs.” Mr Clapham said NSW Farmers wasn’t anti-mining, but was increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with government policy that fails to recognise and protect the importance of key agricultural land. He said water issues, dust and noise impacts, visual impacts and significant impacts to property values were among the issues facing the range of vibrant agricultural industries in the Bylong Valley.
“Agriculture is a sustainable industry that will be here forever, it is not a once-only, boom then bust with a footprint that survives a millennia. It’s time the government got real about protecting agriculture.”
Bylong Valley beef producer, John Weaver of the family owned Timnath Pty Ltd, Budden, says alluvium water availability is in jeopardy if the proposed KEPCO coal mine is approved.
His manager of “Budden” at the foot of the range on the Rylstone end of the valley for 25 years, Rick Cook, has experienced firsthand how ground water in the Growee River behaves.
Without a doubt, our state and federal planning policy is failing.
Mr Weaver said when water was pumped from underground at “Budden”, the neighbours across the road at “Wigelmar” cannot pump water and vice versa.
“In Rick’s experience the Growee River aquifer is highly reactive to any changes in the volume of water in the alluvium,” Mr Weaver said.
”We are very concerned if the Bylong Coal Project is approved and the mine pumps water from the alluvium around Bylong it will be like pulling the plug in a bath. The Growee River aquifer will be drained, leaving us with no water for our breeding herd and no way of supplying water before they start to die in as little as two days.”
The Budden breeding herd of 350 commercial Angus has been developed for more than 40 years by selective breeding and Mr Weaver said, cannot be replaced by money.
“If we start to lose our water, we don’t want compensation,” Mr Weaver said. “We want KEPCO to guarantee our water and guarantee that if we lose our water or its availability starts to decline, then KEPCO must replace it within 48 hours of the loss or reduction being identified.
“If not, the Bylong Coal Project must not be approved.”