THE economics of the proposed expansion of the Stratford coal mine have been questioned along with the impacts the mine will have on people’s physical and mental health.
In a submission to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) economist Rod Campbell said he had serious doubts about figures presented in Yancoal’s proposal to expand the mine, including benefits to the NSW government and its boost to local jobs.
Mr Campbell said his research had resolved that a Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI) assessment that the project represented $84 million in royalties to the State over its 11-year life were grossly exaggerated.
“The original assessment and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure recommendation of approval are based on coal prices 40 per cent
higher than current prices and much higher than forecasts from analysts at the Commonwealth Bank, NAB and World Bank,” Mr Campbell said.
“The Department’s estimate that the project represents $84 million in royalties are based on optimistic prices and assume no deductions.
"I estimate royalties will be worth about $6 million per year, or 0.3 per cent of NSW coal royalties.
“The Department assumes the project will go ahead and employ 250 people. This is despite the recent layoff of 60 workers.
“Without changes in the long term coal market outlook, I think the 250 jobs estimate is overly optimistic.”
Mr Campbell said the Department needed to go back over its figures for the mine.
“I think the proposal is economically dubious and that employment and royalties were overstated in the initial assessment,” he said.
“DPI has done nothing to address these criticisms in their recommendation of approval. Essentially DPI is taking the proponent’s optimism over market sentiment.
“It’s because of its precarious finances that the mine isn’t prepared to negotiate over noise and environmental concerns.
“They can’t afford any change to operating hours, noise conditions or management of final voids. Yancoal will need to cut every corner to get this project going.”
Gloucester Shire’s manager of Planning and Environment Graham Gardener said, while council was not initially opposed to the expansion of the mine, there were conditions it would like met, none of which had been addressed in the Department’s response to the Yancoal proposal.
He said council had three main objections to the mine: the proposed 24-hour operations; its increasing proximity to Stratford village and the lack of a plan to restore parts of the landscape once the mining operations had ceased.
“The environmental impacts will be felt by those in this community,” he said.
“The mine and the village have co-existed since 1995, but the village has existed a lot longer.
“We do not want to see Stratford disappear like Craven.”
Mr Gardener said the 2008 book ‘Remembering Craven’ was a perfect example of how communities felt when governments did not listen.
“Of the 29 houses in Craven, 29 are owned by coal mining companies,” he said.
“People feel abandoned by corporate greed and a government that should have protected them.
“There were 42 submissions from the 58 houses in the village opposing the mine’s expansion in its current form.”
Groundswell Gloucester’s Julie Lyford slammed the State government for its lack of rigour on social and environmental issues surrounding the assessments process.
“You can not take the assessment in isolation in terms of what’s happening in the rest of the valley,” she said.
Dr Steve Robinson from HUGS (Health Under Gloucester Skies), which has been conducting lung function testing for Stratford and Gloucester residents over the past 18 months, said the health issues posed by the mine’s expansion had still not been adequately addressed.
He said noise issues from 24-hour mining operations would lead to serious psychological problems with initial studies showing residents of Stratford were already more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation than people living elsewhere.
Dr Robinson called on the State government to undertake a more comprehensive study on the health impacts to those living in Stratford.
He said dealing with dust emissions and mental health problems caused by noise would exceed any benefit the project would deliver for NSW.