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Queensland accepts court block on New Acland coalmine expansion

The Acland coalmine.
A judge recommended against plans to expand the New Acland coalmine into prime agricultural land on Queensland’s Darling Downs due to concerns over groundwater supplies as well as air quality and noise. Photograph: Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The Queensland government has accepted a landmark land and environment court ruling from last year and refused to provide an environmental licence to the New Acland coalmine extension.

Following the longest case in the court’s history, a judge last year recommended against New Hope’s plans to expand the mine into prime agricultural land on Queensland’s Darling Downs, primarily over concerns about impacts on groundwater supplies, but also on air quality and noise.

In his ruling in May 2017, Judge Paul Smith said: “It is beyond doubt that the mining proposed ... will cause disruptions to aquifers in the Acland region which will have an impact on nearby landholders.”

It was the first time the court had recommended an environmental authority for a mine, known as New Acland coalmine, be rejected outright.

While the court decision was treated as a victory in a David-versus-Goliath battle involving dozens of local residents and groups, the state government’s environment department released its final verdict on Wednesday.

Concerns the court’s recommendation could be ignored were raised this week after the ABC revealed the Queensland government had already thrown New Hope a lifeline and offered the miner a chance to submit revised groundwater modelling.

Jo-Anne Bragg, solicitor at the Queensland Environmental Defenders’ Office, said: “Today’s decision by the environment department was a test for both our newly elected government and for the department – whether it would follow independent and transparent court analysis of evidence, or be persuaded by New Acland’s new groundwater work, which the government allowed to be provided in a last-minute submission process behind closed doors.”

The decision may not be the end of the road for the New Acland coalmine stage 3 extension, or the community that is fighting it. The company has applied for judicial review of the land court’s decision, which Bragg said could invalidate the department’s decision.

Ellie Smith, from Lock the Gate Alliance, said: “This is a wonderful day for Acland farmers and residents. They ran the longest legal challenge in the history of the land court, and won, and we’re all relieved that decision has been respected by the department.

“This vindicates everything local people have worked so hard to protect for the last 10 years – rich farming country, groundwater and the health and wellbeing of their families,” said Smith.

“They have suffered health impacts and severe mental distress as a result of the negative impacts of the existing mine and fears about the expansion.”

The judicial review will commence hearings on 19 March.

This article titled "Queensland accepts court block on New Acland coalmine expansion" was written by Michael Slezak, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14 February 2018 03.40am

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