The re-opening and extension of Invincible Mine has been recommended by the Department of Planning amid concerns about environmental impacts.
The Department of Planning and Environment released their recommendation on the Southern Extension Modification of the mine last week, which outlined its support for the proposed extension, so long as open-cut mining does not encroach on steep wooded areas of the Ben Bullen Forest associated with the forest’s pagoda formations and habitat of the Broad-headed snake.
The proposed extension of Invincible Mine approximately 50 hectares southward to include the Lithgow Coal Seam went on exhibition in September 2016. Manildra Group (who owns the mine) said the extension would bring 35 full-time jobs to the area over an eight-year mine life.
The proposed modification will now be referred to the Planning Assessment Commission, as 288 submission have been received against the modification.
“The key issues for this proposed modification still relate to potential impacts on the conservation, landscape, and biodiversity values of pagodas and the Ben Bullen State Forest. In this regard, the Department has found that the proposal to mine through steep wooded slopes on the eastern boundary of the site would be incompatible with the conservation significance of the pagoda landform complex,” the Department of Planning and Environment’s letter of recommendation said.
“Consequently, the Department has recommended that mining is prohibited in the sensitive, steep wooded areas of the site.”
“While the removal of these areas would reduce the benefits of the proposal, the modification would still have a net benefit of around $68 million (net present value) and would provide increased energy security for the Shoalhaven Starches Plant and the Mt Piper Power Station over the next 8 years.”
Manager of Castlereagh Coal (a subsidiary of Manildra Group) Brett Moore said he welcomed the department’s recommendation.
“Subject to approval, this project will create up to 35 full-time jobs, investment in infrastructure and provide an economic and social boost to the community, which were all key issues raised by the local community during the consultation process.
“This is in addition to the significant benefits to Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven Starches operation through providing greater energy certainty and security,” Mr Moore said.
Manildra Group, an Australian Agribusiness, has previously stated it purchased the open-cut mine in 2015 with the view of using it as a supply of nut-coal for its starch plant in Shoalhaven.
However, Energy Australia has indicated Mt Piper Power Station would receive “small volumes of coal” from the mine.
Environmental groups, such as the Colong Foundation for Wilderness and the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, have actively campaigned to cease open-cut mining in the Ben Bullen State Forest since the mine’s former owners Coalpac, proposed the creation of a larger open-cut mine, which would have disturbed an increased area of 794 hectares, in 2010. It was finally rejected because of conservation concerns in 2014.
Manildra Group has stated their extension proposal differs because of its much smaller disturbance area and because there will be a 300m buffer between pagoda rock formations and most of the mining activity.
The Department of Planning said the extension will disturb up to 50 hectares of native vegetation, including threatened habitat of the Broad-headed snake and Squirrel Glider, as well as the threatened Capertee Stringybark. It said any biodiversity impacts would be addressed by an offset package including 368 hectares of land based offsets and monetary packages.
The proposal to extend the Invincible Mine does not include a request to increase coal production above the currently approved 1.2 megatons per year.