IT’S the 11th hour, the clock is ticking on a February deadline, but Ridgelands Coal Resources has signed off on $440,000 of community projects from a $5 million fund kept secret from the community for nearly five years.
Ridgelands has approved three Muswellbrook Shire Council projects, including $80,000 towards a Sandy Hollow village upgrade linked to one of Australia’s only female bushrangers, Elizabeth Jessie Hickman.
The Hong Kong-based mining company has also approved $300,000 for an education and innovation hub in Muswellbrook and $60,000 to investigate improvements to Ridgelands Road.
The three projects are some of the 19 proposals put to Ridgelands by the community in November after a hasty advertisement process following successful legal action by Muswellbrook Council against the company.
Ridgelands in August accepted that it had to establish a $5 million community fund as a condition of consent of a deed signed with the NSW Government in 2013 for a five-year exploration licence over land at Wybong.
The council initiated the Supreme Court legal action after it was approached by Ridgelands representatives in July who offered $500,000 for the community fund. The condition had remained secret from the council and the community for nearly five years despite conditions requiring the company to publicise the fund, and conditions that included reporting to government representatives on the fund’s progress.
In a statement this week Muswellbrook Council welcomed the announcement of the first round of grants under the fund, although it represented less than 10 per cent of the total which is required to be allocated before the exploration lease expires in February.
A committee made up of Ridgelands, council and community representatives will meet in late January to finalise the fund projects after Ridgelands requested more information about the 16 remaining proposals.
They include another six projects by the council including expansion of Denman Memorial Park, expanding the Denman Memorial Hall rebuilding project, a Learn to Swim pool at Muswellbrook Aquatic Centre, expansion of Denman Children’s Centre, a biodiversity connectivity project and a dance and flexible performance space.
Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush said grants from the fund gave the council an opportunity to leverage as much as possible from state and federal governments and gave Ridgelands Coal Resources the opportunity to leave a legacy 10 times larger than the fund itself.
“The projects are sustainable, stand on their own and are projects the community can be proud of,” Cr Rush said.