FOR the past decade in particular, as the coal mining boom greatly expanded the number and size of open cut mines in the Hunter region, community and environment groups have asked a big question.
What happens when the boom ends? Who is responsible for the legacy in the form of massive mine voids and rehabilitated land that the mining industry has made big promises about, but which have not been tested?
The boom has ended. Big mining companies are leaving or reducing their Hunter holdings, and the big question about what happens after the boom is suddenly with us.
Into that frame sits Anglo American’s Drayton mine at Muswellbrook, and the tortured history of attempts by Anglo over the past six years to have its Drayton South mine approved. Those attempts finally ended in February when a NSW Planning Assessment Commission panel issued a fourth refusal, primarily because of an expanded mine’s impact on Coolmore and Darley thoroughbred studs and the thoroughbred industry as a whole.
Confirmation on Friday that Anglo had sold its controlling interest in the Drayton site to Malabar Coal wasa surprise only in terms of timing, coming so quickly after the PAC decision. For a community divided by the “foals v coal” debatethe news of a new mining interest, and talk of a possible underground mine, brought back memories many had hoped could be put behind them.
Malabar is talking about jobs and getting on with its neighbours.
But a Valuer General’s land revaluation of the Drayton site at $1 is a reminder that there are significant legacies of coal mining, and the warnings by community and environment groups for all those years are more relevant now than ever before.
The NSW Government seems to be leaving the market to decide the Hunter region’s fate in a world where financial institutions are openly refusing to fund new coal projects, and climate change is a direct challenge to coal’s social licence.
Throughout the Drayton saga a broad cross-section of the Hunter –from farmers to the tourist industry, thoroughbred breeders to community and environment groups –have called on the NSW Government to take the lead on protecting and promoting the industries that will remain, after coal mining ends. Those calls are getting louder.
The question now is if anyone is listening.