After coal seam gas Gloucester braces for another battle, this time against coal

Residents (from left) Dimity Bowden, Bruce Gilbert, Helen Evans, Mick O’Brien and Denise Gilbert at the Gilbert’s home which overlooks the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine. Photo: Liam Driver Anti-mine signs on the side of a shed beside the road into Gloucester. Photo: Peter Hannam

Site of the planned open-cut coal mine near Gloucester. Photo: Peter Hannam

Former Gloucester mayor John Rosenbaum (right) with John Watts of Groundswell Gloucester near the proposed mine site. Photo: Peter Hannam

When Denise Gilbert joined anti-coal seam gas opponents at the “meeting place” near Gloucester’s art gallery last February to celebrate AGL’s sudden withdrawal from the industry, she found herself feeling surprisingly flat.

Ms Gilbert’s group, Groundswell Gloucester, had seen off the energy giant and its plan to pock-mark the bucolic valley on the mid-north coast of NSW with hundreds of CSG wells connected to a lattice of pipelines.

Instead, “I was devoid of emotion,” the resident of the satellite estate of Forbesdale said this week. “You just feel you’re fighting, fighting, fighting – and we’re all just a bit worn out.”

Ms Gilbert also feared it wouldn’t be long before a dormant proposal to mine for coal near the town would surface.

And sure enough, low-profile US-based AMCI – a privately-held mining group run by German Hans Mende – this week released its amended environmental impact statement for a mine that would encroach within about 900 metres of Forbesdale and a couple of kilometres of Gloucester.

“The coal mine was always the biggest source of concern for us,” Ms Gilbert said of her family. “We could live overlooking a CSG field but there’s no way we could live with an open-cut coal mine.”

Jeff Kyte, a retired hydrologist who exposed holes in AGL’s CSG groundwater models, takes no joy in having to take on another miner.

“Those few months in between were amazing,” he said. “We just can’t believe we have to go through this horrible process again.”

The resistance includes reopening the “war room” in the home of former Gloucester mayor and Groundswell chairwoman Julie Lyford, to compose yet another submission, this time against the proposed Rocky Hill mine.

Brian Clifford, chief operating officer of AMCI’s local subsidiary Gloucester Resources Ltd, said the modified proposal would see coking coal trucked to Yancoal’s Stratford mine to the south. Night-time operations would be avoided.

“We have made important changes to the project to reduce impacts while bringing much needed jobs for some 20 years and local community infrastructure to Gloucester,” he said.

The Rocky Hill mine would produce 21 million tonnes of coking coal over its 16-year life, with no more than 2 million tonnes in its peak year.

The company would pay $63 million in royalties and $60 million in federal taxes, in current dollars, and aims to recruit locals for 75 per cent of its jobs by the third year.

Stewart Carruthers, president of Gloucester’s Chamber of Commerce, said business is quiet and the town could do with more jobs and industry.

“The trouble is, it’s so close to the town,” he said, noting the region’s predominant southerly winds would dump the dust on residents.

Others worry that GRL’s other licences (see EL 6523 in GRL’s map below), could see the pit abut the town itself.

Mr Carruthers, a nephew of Jimmy Carruthers – Australia’s bantamweight world champion boxer from the 1950s – said CSG divided Gloucester and there’s no appetite to go back in the ring against coal.

“The town is just starting to recover,” he said. “Now we’ve walked into another firestorm.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Planning said other changes made since the mine’s first EIA three years ago included the reduction of three open-cut puts instead of four, and the proposal to have no evening hours of work during the project’s first three years.

“All applications are assessed under strict NSW government rules and policies,” she said. “Social and environmental factors are considered equally alongside economic factors.”

John Rosenbaum, a former mayor of Gloucester, said the expected dust, noise from blasts, night lights, and heavy traffic from the mine were severe enough for the council to unanimously oppose it in 2012.

“The impact will be far greater than the benefit it would bring to the community,” said Mr Rosenbaum, who was mayor until May when the government’s forced council amalgamation summarily stripped him of the role.

Local opposition to the mine was more than 80 per cent according to early surveys and public meetings drew crowds of as many as 1000, he said.

“Whether the town is so supportive [of resistance to the mine] after the AGL debacle is hard to say,” he said.

With the EIS under public exhibition and a verdict by the Planning Assessment Commission not due for at least a year, the town’s state of limbo is far from over.

Ms Gilbert said she and her Forbesdale neighbours have seen their property values slide over the last six years amid the uncertainty cast by the CSG project and now the mine.

“We’ve got people who are going to die here while they wait to find out whether the mine will go ahead.”

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