For the fifth time a mining project located on land adjacent to the country's leading thoroughbred studs is the subject of a planning hearing

Site map.

Site map.

Somethings change and somethings don't.

In this particular case the location, subject and cast are more or less the same but the actual project is different.

What we are talking about here is the Maxwell Underground Coal Mine Project located near Jerrys Plains.

It is the third coal mining proposal for the site and it is currently the subject of a public hearing before the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

For many of the speakers objecting to the project it will be their fifth appearance at a planning commission hearing trying to convince the commissioners to go against a recommendation by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment for the project to be given the green light.

Twice before the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC), the forerunner to the IPC, rejected a proposal by mining giant Anglo American to develop an open mine adjoining their existing Drayton mine.

The second rejection took place in February 2017 when the PAC said the proposal posed too greater risk to the linch pins of the Hunter's thoroughbred industry Coolmore and Godolphin studs.

These two studs are the country's and among the world's leading thoroughbred studs and owners of the all important top class stallions the mainstay of the breeding operations in the Hunter.

Today in the something new category the IPC held a public meeting via video link due to COVID-19 restrictions into the latest mining project for the site - an underground mine.

Maxwell Underground is the brainchild of Malabar Resources who have taken over Anglo American's closed Drayton mine and developed what they consider the best option, underground methods, to extract 148 million tonnes of coal over the 26 year life of the mine.

Once operational the mine is expected to employ 350 workers and deliver more than $1 billion in royalties to the NSW Government. It will involve an investment of $509 million to develop with 75 per cent of the coal to be used in steel making and rest will be thermal coal.

Malabar Resources chairman Wayne Seabrook said in his presentation to the IPC, "We've consulted closely with our neighbours and the local community for at least eight years about how to develop projects in the right way in the contemporary environmental framework."

"This has resulted in the Maxwell Underground Project being completely different from the previous open-cut proposals for the site.

"Maxwell Underground will deliver 600 new jobs and support local suppliers and contractors over the next three decades and help relieve some of the pressure on local families in the current economic environment.

"Maxwell Underground also ensures current and future industries in the region can thrive, and maintains the visual amenity of the local area.

"The NSW Government's Assessment Report concluded that the Maxwell Underground Project is in the public interest and independently confirmed it can co-exist with industry in the region."

In the company's other presentations they spoke about the fact that underground mining can co-exit with other land users and that agricultural production can continue on the company's land.

In the last two years Malabar has undertaken rehabilitation on the former Drayton site covering 439 acres and planted 60,000 trees.

The company said given the views of the previous planning commissions the Maxwell mine cannot be seen from the Golden Highway and most importantly will not impact the neighbouring thoroughbred studs.

That opinion is totally rejected by the principal of Coolmore stud said, Tom Magnier who told the IPC that it was nearly four years to the day that he was speaking against Drayton South Project - and now he was back again trying to defend his business, his employees and the Hunter's thoroughbred industry from another mining project.

"Following the PAC refusal of that proposal in February 2017 we thought we had certainty," he said.

"We started investing in our future buying a neighbouring farm to grow lucerne for our horses and buying more broodmares.

"But here we are again. Ten years three development applications and now a fifth planning commission hearing with the same experts saying the same thing we cannot have a mine on that land."

Coolmore stud. Photo supplied.

Coolmore stud. Photo supplied.

Given the project is now underground Mr Magnier's number one concern is its impacts on water which he described as agriculture's lifeblood.

"Three years of drought has shown how vital water is to us and other farmers and any impacts from this mine pose a serious threat to our operations."

Mr Magnier said their experts dismissed the Department's opinion that the mine will have minimal impacts on water supplies - ground and surface.

He wants to see his family's horse breeding business, which was established in Ireland 200 years ago, to be able to continue to grow and provide a future for not only his family but also for the entire Coolmore workforce and the Hunter's thoroughbred industry.

To do this he called on the IPC to reject Maxwell Underground Coal Project.

Also speaking against the project was Friends of the Upper Hunter Inc secretary Kirsty O'Connell who said "The Upper Hunter - particularly around Muswellbrook and Singleton - already has the worst air quality in the state. The NSW Government has approved so many coal mines that we have no head room left to cope with a natural weather event like a storm, a bushfire or a drought without exceeding the national air pollution safety limits. And we're not just exceeding those limits by a little... we've got data that shows air pollution at two, three, four and even five times the limit! In this context, how could we possibly support the opening of yet another coal mine?"

"The NSW Government is looking for a path to economic recovery and seems intent on approving every application that crosses its desk. But if money is tight you don't take a chainsaw to your house and start selling it for the firewood."

"Everyone can see that we aren't going to mine coal forever. This region is going to need its established industries when that happens. Industries like farming, horse breeding, food production and tourism coexist perfectly with our local communities and provide lasting, sustainable employment without looting the inheritance of our children and grandchildren in this area."

"This area is beyond the tipping point in terms of the volume of mining it can safely sustain - and blue chip mining companies that are already operating here are struggling to sell their coal. As a community we can't sustain another mine and we would argue that opening new mines does nothing but put added pressure on those mines that already exist."

This story Maxwell mine under the microscope at IPC first appeared on Muswellbrook Chronicle.