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Southern Highlands set for coal battle

Coal. Photo: Shutterstock.

A move by South Korean steelmaker POSCO to build a new coal mine in the New South Wales Southern Highlands is set to kick off a major battle between the company and local residents.

An Environmental Impact Statement for the Hume Coal Project was released on March 31.

The 3mtpa coal mine would export at Port Kembla, via the Berrima Rail Project, which would require a separate development application.

The mine’s EIS, available here, suggests it would consume as much as 2.3 billion litres of water a year, resulting in major impacts to a number of bores in the area.

“Groundwater inflows to the mine will occur during its operational life and for three years after coal extraction ceases (i.e. for approximately 22 years’ duration in total),” the EIS states.

“It is predicted that 93 private landowner bores on 71 properties will experience a drawdown of two metres or more due to the project.”

The drawdowns will impact each bore for an average of 36 years, and as much as 65 years in some places, the EIS said.

The South Korean company said it would compensate locals who saw bore levels decline by more than two metres.

“All bores drawn-down by more than two metres due to the project will be eligible for compensation (financial or otherwise),” the EIS said.

In some cases, the miner would work with residents to improve or redrill their bores due to the impact of the mine on the groundwater level.

Community group Battle for Berrima rejected the premise that such a significant impact to groundwater could be justified through compensation.

“The simple fact is that farmers, landowners and residents will be directly affected by Hume Coal’s proposal for up to seven decades if it is approved by the Berejiklian Government,” Battle for Berrima president Ken Wilson said on Tuesday.

“It is an outrage that this level of impact on existing landowners, their businesses, livelihood and local economy can be even considered by Hume Coal.

“What is even more egregious is that Hume Coal feels it is an appropriate solution to simply compensate farmers if their bores go dry.”

But POSCO’s Hume Coal project director Greig Duncan said the impact on groundwater bores was limited.

“Around a third of the affected bores will experience increased pumping cost and no other capital works or supplementary measures are required,” Duncan said.

“Another third of the bores have been assessed as potentially needing their submersible pump repositioned.

“The final third may require redrilling, or repositioning to maintain water supply; typically these bores are either shallow, or screened in, or below the coal seam itself, or within close proximity to the top of the target coal seam.”

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