Residents Oppose Expansion of Rio Tinto Coal Mine in NSW Hunter Valley

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By Vittorio Hernandez | August 15, 2013 9:06 AM EST

Angry Hunter Valley residents in the Australian state of New South Wales protested on Tuesday the coal mine expansion plan of mining giant Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO). The anti-mining protest was held on the day that the NSW Supreme Court heard arguments about the future of the Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine.

Rio was given the green light in 2012 by the NSW government to expand the coal mine located near Singleton, but the village of Bulga successfully challenged the Land and Environment Court's decision that reversed the mine extension in April 2013, prompting Rio and the NSW government to file an appeal on the ground that it was denied procedural fairness.

In favouring the residents, Environment Court Chief Justice Brian Preston said, "The project's impact in terms of noise, dust and visual impacts and the adverse change in the composition of the community by reason of the acquisition of noise and air quality affected properties, are likely to cause adverse social impacts on individuals and the community of Bulga."

The judge added, the project would worsen "the loss of sense of place, and materially and adversely change the sense of community, of the residents of Bulga and the surrounding countryside."

In insisting of the mine expansion, Coal & Allied, the Rio-owned company, warned it would hinder job creation and investments based on estimates of 1,300 jobs expected to be created by the venture.

Rio expects to invest $552 million on the coal mine expansion venture. But it would still be cheaper than to build new ones which would require infrastructure like water supply and rail lines.

Under the planned 12-year extension of the Warkworth mine until 2033, an additional 144 million tonnes of thermal coal used for power generation are expected to be produced.

The mine site is within two miles of Bulga, home to 350 residents, and would need clearing of endangered ecological areas and destruction of the Saddleback Ridge which is the last natural buffer between Bulga and the planned mine extension.

Stewart Mitchell, a 62-year-old Bulga resident who descends from the founders of the town in the 1820s, said allowing the mine expansion would be like having a tractor in their backyard and they would be forever cleaning black dust on any surface inside their homes, damage roofs and clog rainwater tanks.

"We shouldn't be expected to live under those conditions," The Wall Street Journal quoted Mr Mitchell. 

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