Coalpac Coal Mine to kill Cullen Bullen village

Rally in Springwood last Sunday to save the Gardens of Stone from mining
[Photo by Editor, 201340421, Photo © ^Creative Commons]

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Coalpac ‘Consolidation’ Project

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Two years ago in July 2011, corporate coal mining company, Coalpac Pty Ltd,  lodged a development proposal with the New South Wales Government to expand its open-cut and high wall coal mines.  The sites are within the proposed extension of the Gardens of Stone National Park and surround the small rural village of Cullen Bullen in central-western NSW, both situated along the Castlereagh Highway about 25 km north-west of Lithgow.

Coalpac’s  Consolidation Project involves expansion of mining operations at (1) the Cullen Valley and (2) Invincible coal mine, and establishment of a new quarry and associated infrastructure.   Basically, Coalpac wants to consolidate (mining spin for ‘expand’)  its Invincible and Cullen Valley coal mines and construct a new quarry in the Ben Bullen State Forest near Lithgow.

Coalpac’s colliery extension

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Coalpac acquired the assets of the Lithgow Coal Company in February 2008.  Coalpac was originally owned by the Liberman family and remains privately owned.  Coalpac has a 20-year contract to provide thermal black coal to nearby Mount Piper Power Station owned by Delta Electricity.

The scale of the expansion will see production of up to 3.5 million tonnes of coal from the two mining operations and up to 640,000 tonnes of extractive material a year from the quarry operation.    The intended life of the coal mining is to be 21 years.

The relevant authority, the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure’s, Deputy Director-General Richard Pearson said the company’s first environmental assessment did not adequately address the project’s potential impacts on biodiversity, natural, historic and Aboriginal cultural heritage, noise, air quality and groundwater.

The magnificent Gardens of Stone under threat of mining
(Hamilton Lund, Tourism NSW)

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In January 2012, Coalpac re-submitted its development proposal and “after liaising with the department on a number of issues, the proponent submitted a revised EA in mid January which has now been deemed adequate,” according to Mr Pearson.

However, many localand regional people continue oppose the expansion, no less the immediate residents of Cullen Bullen.  The public exhibition period for both mine sites was for eight weeks between 1oth April and 1st June 2012.

The proposal includes:

  • Consolidating development consents and project approvals at both the Invincible and Cullen Valley coal mines so that one approval regulates mining across both sites;
  • Expanding open cut and high wall mining areas, to extract an additional 108 million tonnes of coal;
  • Upgrading and building associated infrastructure to process 3.5 million tonnes of coal per annum and transport coal off the site by road and rail;
  • Producing up to 640,000 tonnes of sand products each year;
  • Clearing approximately 960 hectares of vegetation, primarily within Ben Bullen State Forest; and
  • Rehabilitating the site.

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Cullen Bullen satellite map
[Google Maps 2013, click image to enlarge]

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A threatened species confirmed to be existing in the Ben Bullen State Forest area adds to a growing list of flora species Coalpac Pty Ltd has failed to identify within its flora assessments for current and proposed mining projects. Environment group’s caution the company’s track record raises further concerns for the community over the ‘Coalpac Consolidation Project’ Cullen Bullen NSW.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) recently confirmed the existence of the threatened species Persoonia marginata within Coalpac Pty Ltd’s Cullen Valley Mine mining lease.

To cirumvent ecological provisions of the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), sections 18 and 18A (Listed threatened species and communities) and sections 20 and 20A (Listed migratory species),  the proposal includes a biodiversity offset strategy, which would potentially allocate more than 1,755 hectares of land as biodiversity offsets.

“Despite undertaking seven field surveys before lodging this Proposed Action at least 75 plants were missed in their surveys. There are in fact at least 350 plant species of which 6 are listed as Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (ROTAP) existing within the proposed area to be cleared. In effect, the ecological surveys have understated the diversity of the area to be open cut,” says Chris Jonkers, Natural Areas Project Office of the Lithgow Environment Group.

“Due to Coalpac’s track record of inadequate flora assessments, environment groups are calling for the Department of Planning to commission an independent flora assessment. The results of this combined with other threats to matters of national environmental significance, we would see the proposal be rejected by the NSW Government,” says Mr Jonkers.
“The natural and recreational values of the area have a life span well beyond the 21 years Coalpac would take to destroy the heritage value of this gateway area to the Gardens of Stone,” says Mr Jonkers.

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Coalpac’s Invincible Colliery undermining below  pagodas of the Gardens of Stone
[Photo: Leone Knight, ^http://www.abc.net.au/rural/regions/content/201204/3490112.htm]

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Coalpac’s open cut coal mining expansion is set to be within 500 metres of Cullen Bullen residents and threatened to operate 24/7, causing unrelenting industrial noise and to inflict toxic coal dust upon Cullen Bullen and over 21 years, so effectively killing Cullen Bullen.

Nearly all residents of nearby Cullen Bullen have protested against the mine’s expansion, except a few who are selfish employees of Coalpac.

In April 2012, residents of Cullen Bullen presented the Member for Bathurst with a petition opposing a proposed open-cut coal mine near the town.   Over two thirds of the Cullen Bullen residents signed the petition against the open-cut development; however they do say they would support the proposal if the mine was underground.

Paul Toole the National’s member for Bathurst says they have legitimate concerns, and he would be taking them to the NSW Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard.  Squat difference that made.>>

[Source:  ‘The Battle for Cullen Bullen’, 20120427, ABC Rural, ^http://www.abc.net.au/rural/regions/content/201204/3490112.htm]
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Invincible Mine

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Divide and Conquer the local residents…

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According to Blue Mountains Conservation Society campaigner Justin McKee, Coalpac seems to be employing an ‘age old’ Caesarian mining strategy of ‘divide and conquer‘ in order to get its way in forging ahead with its devastating open cut mining project.

“The process any mining company will follow to divide and then conquer a community is age old and I’ve witnessed this in the Hunter Region time and time again,” Mr McKee said.

“First a company will employ the nicest person they can possibly find to be the community relations officer to forge local relationships.   “The company will then go about understanding exactly what the local issues are, create local community opinion leaders while buying up land and offer the loudest people in the community either jobs or above market rate sums for their property and demand they sign confidentiality agreements.

“All the while the company will claim the middle ground in all its communications so that others’ opinions seem radical.

“Finally, the company will set about marginalising everybody else so that the community is left completely divided.”

[Source:  ‘Protect the Gardens of Stone’, media release, Blue Mountains Conservation Society, 20110531]

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Cullen Bullen General Store
[Photo:  ^http://sweetwayfaring.blogspot.com.au/2011_01_01_archive.html]

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Plea by Cullen Bullen resident, Eva Rizana

Public Speech delivered at Springwood on Sunday, 21st April 2013
Eva is a long standing resident of Cullen Bullen.

 

<<Good Morning Everyone.  Firstly I’d like to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak here today. I’m not a public speaker but will do my best.

I’m here today to give a local perspective on the Coalpac Consolidation Project and its impact on the people of Cullen Bullen.  My name is Eva Rizana and I spent the first 25 years of my life as a resident of Cullen Bullen and have both lived there and visited on numerous occasions since.
My grandparents had businesses in the township. A bakery in the 1960’s and the Post Office during the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and 90’s. I myself worked at the post office, a local berry farm and at the school.  My family still owns a half acre block and family home in Cullen Bullen. For those of you who don’t know Cullen Bullen is a town about 20 minutes out of Lithgow as you head towards Mudgee.

While most of what I will share with you today is my own personal story, there are many residents of Cullen Bullen who have similar stories to tell.

I first came to know about the Coalpac Consolidation Project when we received one of their newsletters in our mailbox. The newsletter outlined the Coalpac Consolidation Project. There was a map along with some technical information about the operation of the mine. To be honest I didn’t really understand all the technical information, but the map made it very clear that the proposed mine would be very, very close to the town. Essentially the Coalpac Consolidation Project would mean that the 200 residents of Cullen Bullen will be living in the middle of an open cut mine for the next 20 years. Like most of the residents of Cullen Bullen at that time, my family felt lost, confused and extremely isolated.

The proposal is for the mine to operate 24 hours a day 7 days a week, with blasting occurring several times a week. In some cases the mine operations will be only 500 meters from homes, and obviously the people living in those homes.

The NSW Department of Health, along with local doctors have raised concerns about the impact of mining operations on the health of the residents. While I’m extremely grateful for their contributions and welcome the knowledge and expertise that they bring to the argument, I find it slightly disturbing that we have a system that requires professional evidence that living in the middle of a 24 hour, 7 day a week open cut mining operation for 20 years, is detrimental to people’s health. To me and to the majority of residents of Cullen Bullen its simply logical that being within 500 meters of the dust, fuel fumes, noise and in close proximity to the blasting generated by the mine isn’t good for the health of residents.

I know of numerous residents whose health has already been impacted by the existing mine operations, just over the hill in Tyldesley . Their symptoms include itchy eyes, itchy skin, skin rashes and hives as well as breathing difficulties. These symptoms clear up or go away when they leave the area for extended periods of time such as going away on holidays, however quickly return once they come back home to Cullen Bullen. I’m also disturbed that the very real experiences of these people can’t be offered as further evidence on the detrimental effects of open cut mining in close proximity to people.

In addition to these health concerns many residents have concerns that relate to damage to the structure of their homes as well as the financial impact the mine will have on the value of their homes.

I understand that Coalpac has agreed to compensate residents for any damages caused to their homes by the mining operations. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it ?….Until you find that your home has been damaged and that Coalpac can present a multitude of reasons other than its mining operations to explain the damage. So not only do these people have damage to their homes, they are also out of pocket and angry at the empty promises made and assurances given.

Quite frankly, the majority of residents of Cullen Bullen don’t trust Coalpac to fulfil in full the terms of their proposal and we also feel let down by some authorities in not forcing them to comply with some of the terms already agreed to.

To offer an example:

As mentioned, Coalpac has an existing mine just outside of Cullen Bullen. They started mining operations there about 12 years ago. Their original mine was open-cut but was supposed to convert to underground mining after a certain period of time (approximately 4 years I believe). Well here we are 12 years later and the mine is still operating as an open cut mine. My understanding is that the mine couldn’t go underground due to fire in many pockets of coal. This sounds reasonable and I’m certainly not promoting the use of mining practices that would endanger the safety of the miners or other workers – but can you see how from our perspective Coalpac has developed for themselves a reputation of not fulfilling promises. Most residents believe that if the proposal were to be approved Coalpac would start pushing the envelope in terms of things like blasting times, noise and dust restrictions, and proximity to homes and pagodas.

Speaking of Pagodas, I believe some of you went to visit the unique “Gardens of Stone” recently. These structures along with other beautiful landscapes make the area around Cullen Bullen a great place for tourists to visit. Australia’s own Grand Canyon is just up the road near the town of Capertee while Cullen Bullen itself is surrounded by many unique rocky outcrops and pagodas, all of which are now under threat.

According to a recent article published in the Lithgow Mercury (10th March 2013) written by Noel Craven, a man who I understand has extensive experience in the mining industry – based on current mining techniques and reserves, Lithgow’s mining industry has a lifespan of around 40 years. That’s only one generation of workers. I want to repeat that because I believe it’s a significant point. Lithgow’s coal industry is not sustainable beyond 40 years.

So much mainstream media has been focused on the local jobs that the Coalpac Consolidation Project could provide. However all of the energy being given to this argument takes the focus away from the fact that according to Noel Craven’s statistics taken from Lithgow Council Economic Development Strategy, Coal Industry Profile, almost 30% of Lithgow District’s workers will be faced with unemployment in 40 years.

I find that figure completely staggering. How can mainstream media be so focused on the comparatively small number of local jobs currently under threat by mine closures when the entire industry itself will be gone in 40 years?

Now here’s the thing – If the Coalpac Consolidation Project is approved, the very thing which may have saved Lithgow and District from mass unemployment, in the form of tourism to places such as the Gardens of Stone, will be gone.

It seems to me that the voices that are being heard in mainstream media are not painting a complete picture. Yes, mining does create local jobs and that is important, but to the best of my knowledge only 3-4 residents of Cullen Bullen are employed by Coalpac. That’s 3 -4 people out of a population of around 200 people.
Coalpac’s Consolidation Project proposal states that around 1 -2 % of its workers will be sourced locally. In my opinion, the media, including Sydney based Shock Jocks have either been manipulated or have themselves manipulated the facts surrounding this situation and many people now believe misinformation. It seems to me that the voices of people such as me are being drowned out. Again another reason I’m grateful to have been given this opportunity to speak and hope that I am doing justice to the many who have been standing their ground in and around Cullen Bullen for 12 and in one case 17 years.

I’d love to say that the current situation around the Coalpac Consolidation Project has brought the town together. Unfortunately, from my perspective the Cullen Bullen that I grew up in has already disappeared. The sense that, even though things weren’t perfect, we all pulled together when we needed to has gone. Big business and big money, along with loads of misinformation have divided the town. The fact is that the majority of residents do object to the proposal as evident by the more than 4:1 ratio of submissions from Cullen Bullen residents to the Department of Planning objecting to the proposal. The few ( 3-4) Coalpac employees along with their families understandably  support the mine. To me, it feels like the people of Cullen Bullen are being used as pawns in a game that we have no chance of winning. Coalpac knows how to play this game and are using their knowledge and resources to win.

The social dynamics of Cullen Bullen have been changed beyond recognition.

In closing, I appreciate the spotlight that the “Icons Under Threat” Tour has put on the Coalpac Consolidation Project and the negative impact it will have on the health and financial well-being of the residents of Cullen Bullen. We don’t want to become another Maitland, Singleton or Ulan moonscape.
While you might hear a different story in mainstream media – the truth is the vast majority of Cullen Bullen residents are opposed to the mine, and anything that can be done to avoid future generations having to fight this same battle over and over again would be most welcome.

Thank you.>>

[Source: Eva Rizana, (resident of Cullen Bullen), public speech, 20130421]

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Community rally opposing coal mining

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<<The fight to save the Gardens of Stone near Lithgow came to the streets of Springwood on Sunday when residents rallied in the town square calling on the government to protect the area from coal mining.

Organised by the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Lithgow Environment Group and Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC), the rally was the final event in a week-long tour by senior NCC staff of areas across the state facing coal mining and gas developments.

The Gardens of Stone has escarpments, canyons, upland swamps, rock arches and pagodas that provide habitat for many endangered plants and wildlife.

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NCC chief executive officer Pepe Clarke said even though the Planning Assessment Commission made damning findings against the proposal in December, the area was still vulnerable.

“Coalpac’s revised open-cut coal mine proposal at Cullen Bullen north of Lithgow is still a very real threat to this iconic area and must be opposed at every opportunity,” Mr Clarke said.

“The O’Farrell Government now has an historic opportunity to protect this unique part of the state’s environmental heritage for future generations and to improve its poor environmental credentials by declaring it a State Conservation Area. People should not have to fight this fight — this should be protected up front.”

Pepe Clarke of NCC speaking at the Springwood Rally, 20130421

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Tara Cameron, vice president of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, said approval of the proposal would open the door to the “visual cancer of strip mining along the steep forested edges of the Greater Blue Mountains”.

“These long thin strips of steep and elevated lands are very difficult to rehabilitate and will become, for all time, areas of visual blight, destroying the region’s greatest tourist asset, its stunning scenery. It must be stopped,” she said.

“To allow open-cut mine anywhere is bad, but to ruin the Gardens of Stone would be intolerable. The government has a clear responsibility to reject the Coalpac proposal and protect the area forever by declaring it a State Conservation Area.”

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage responded that “although the Gardens of Stone are not in the Blue Mountains I fully understand the concerns of the conservation society.   The Coalpac expansion proposal was referred to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) and the commission’s independent review report was publicly released on December 20, 2012. The PAC recommended that the coal mine expansion project not proceed, partly on environmental grounds.

“A final decision on the proposal is still to be made by the government. No decision on Gardens of Stone [stage] 2 [proposal] National Park can be made before that time,” she said.>>

[Source:  “Springwood protest over Gardens of Stone mine proposal, 20130424, ^http://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/story/1454027/springwood-protest-over-gardens-of-stone-mine-proposal/?cs=2062]
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Gardens of Stone being mined to oblivion
(Photo:  Blue Mountains Conservation Society)

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One Response to “Coalpac Coal Mine to kill Cullen Bullen village”

  1. jim oneil says:

    Being a part of the wiradjuri tribe, my family , my mother and her family come from cullen bullen.since the 1800s “any indigenous damage”is un place able ..my sister and i are the last of the older ones.but we all know, big industry bullys anyone in there pathway.Arthur oneil.
    P.s not amused!

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