Manildra Group, an Australian agribusiness, that owns the former Cullen Valley and Invincible Mine sites near Cullen Bullen, are waiting to receive a recommendation from the Department of Planning on whether the Invincible Mine can re-open with an extension to the site.
On Monday, May 8, Lithgow City Council will vote on a proposed Voluntary Planning Agreement between the council and Manildra if the mine is approved.
Currently, Manildra is offering the council a maximum of $17,000 per annum to be contributed towards the township of Cullen Bullen and surrounds to offset any adverse impacts of the mine.
Environmental groups, who have staunchly opposed extensions to open-cut mining in the Ben Bullen State Forest for several years, say the natural environment of the area is invaluable.
Manildra’s proposal to extend the already approved open-cut Invincible Mine southwards to include the Lithgow coal seam went on exhibition in September last year.
Brett Moore, project manager of Castlereagh Coal, a group wholly owned by Manildra, said the proposal attracted 858 submissions with 550 in support of the project.
“The Southern Extension Project will stimulate economic and social activity in the Cullen Bullen, Lithgow, wider regional communities and broader New South Wales economy,” Mr Moore said.
“The associated benefits include local employment of up to approximately 35 full-time employees in the Cullen Bullen region.”
Two parties that submitted against the re-opening and extension of the open-cut mine were the Colong Foundation for Wildnerness and the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, who are both campaigning for the Ben Bullen State Forest, and surrounding forests to become a state conservation area.
“We would like the coal industry to restrict itself to underground mining in the state forests around Lithgow. We have proposed the state forest become a state conservation area which would allow responsible underground mining,” Colong Foundation executive director Keith Muir said.
The groups have campaigned against expansions to open-cut mines in the Ben Bullen State Forest since previous owner Coalpac proposed the creation of another large open-cut mine, The Coalpac Consolidation Project, in 2010. The plan was finally rejected by the Planning and Assessment Committee in 2014.
The Planning and Assessment Committee’s report stated the project would have "intruded" on a region of pagoda rock structures with "high conservation value" as unique land forms but also as habitats for threatened species.
While Castlereagh Coal’s current proposal is a comparatively small extension with a 300 meter buffer from pagoda formations, Madi Maclean, the president of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, said further open-cut mining is not the way forward for the region’s economy.
“Two PAC Commissions have said the best use of this land is conservation. Improved access to all those areas, including the Newnes, Ben Bullen and Wolgan State Forest would create a recreational destination of great value to Lithgow.
“The animals, the sloped woodlands and pagodas are all part of the system, it’s not good enough that it’s nibbled away at bite after bite.
“We also want to see the state government formulate transition plans for mine affected communities like we have seen with foresting communities,” she said.
Manildra has maintained their interest in the mines is for nut coal, which the group previously sourced from the Invincible Mine to use in their ethanol plant in Shoalhaven.
In a submission supporting the Southern Extension Project, Energy Australia said Mt Piper Power Station would directly benefit from the project, “receiving relatively small volumes of coal from Invincible to supplement supplies from Springvale mine.”
Manildra have not confirmed they have any plans to supply coal to the power station.
Mr Muir of the Colong Foundation, however, believes the supply of coal to Mt Piper is inevitable.
“For every job that is established in the Invincible Mine, that puts jobs at the underground mine [Springvale] at risk,” he said.
The proposal to extend the Invincible Mine does not include a request to increase coal production above the currently approved 1.2 megatons. Energy Australia said diversity of coal supply is a risk to Mt Piper as a secure electricity source.