News

Escarpment bush tracks closed to the public under colliery’s expansion plans

ESCARPMENT tracks that generations of bushwalkers have enjoyed in the northern Illawarra have been closed to the public under the proposed Russell Vale Colliery’s expansion plans.

The Russell Vale Colliery has been dormant for the last five years since it was placed under care and maintenance.

The New South Wales Government has recommended that the Independent Planning Commission approves the expansion of Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale operations, which includes mining under the Sydney water catchment area.

The state’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment believes that the economic benefits of Wollongong Coal’s revised underground expansion project outweigh its residual costs, deeming the project “approvable, subject to strict conditions of consent”.

Under the revised project plan, the Russell Vale operations will only involve non-caving board and pillar mining techniques, to ensure long term stable operations with minimal subsidence impacts.

The proposal has been slammed by environmentalists, and community and green groups, who say the risks to the Sydney water catchment and the fragile escarpment are too high.

Also condemning the proposal are members of the Seacliff Coasters, a local group of trail runners, who have launched a petition, which will be submitted to a public hearing later this month.

Members of the group said they first became aware of threats to the escarpment when Wollongong Coal in anticipation of their expansion, placed signs prohibiting public access along the lower escarpment trail – known locally as the ‘Halfway Track’.

A group spokesperson said it has become clear that local residents can no longer enjoy a simple run, ride or walk up to Brokers Nose without the threat of prosecution.

The spokesperson said in addition to extensive environmental issues, expansion of the Russell Vale coal mine raises serious ‘public amenity’ and access concerns that need to be urgently addressed. 

Co-founder of the Seacliff Coasters, Mat Wall-Smith said the Russell Vale mine is located on a part of the Illawarra Escarpment that has become an increasingly popular site for recreational use, with mountain bikers, trail runners, bushwalkers and naturists from across the region and beyond regularly using the area for sustainable activities.

“The environmental risks are too great, the economic value is highly doubtful, and the community will lose access to unique world-class bushland and trails, which have huge potential to promote both the physical and mental health of local community members,” Mr Wall-Smith said. 

“We strongly believe there should be no expansion to Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale operations. The mine facility should be remediated and its heritage celebrated.

“The bush should be remediated and ‘returned’ to public use. We want access to our Escarpment. We want the right to look after it, to care for it and celebrate it.” 

On September 16 2020 the NSW Department of Planning gave its support to a plan submitted by Wollongong Coal to expand its Russell Vale coal mining operations on the Illawarra Escarpment.

The Russell Vale Underground Expansion Project has been referred to the Independent Planning Commission of NSW. Three Commissioners have been appointed who will conduct a public hearing on Monday October 19 2020 so they can hear directly the views and concerns from community members. 

The Bulli & Clifton Times have approached Wollongong Coal for comment. However in a previous statement the colliery said environmental and social studies for a revised mine plan commenced in 2017, with a detailed round of engagement undertaken with key stakeholders and local residents.

“The revised mine plan has been developed in response to government and community concerns regarding the potential environmental and social impacts of the project,” a spokesperson said in the statement.

“In particular, concerns regarding potential subsidence related impacts of mining on groundwater, surface water and biodiversity, as well as noise impacts on the local community.”

Key project changes include: “use of non-caving first workings mining methods with negligible subsidence and environmental impacts – longwall mining is no longer proposed; a reduced production rate and substantial redesign of the Russell Vale Pit Top to reduce noise impacts on the local community as well as improve surface water management.”

“The environmental and social assessment studies being prepared for the revised mine plan will be submitted to the Department of Planning and Environment along with a response to the Planning Assessment Commission Review of the previous project design. These documents will be made publicly available on the Department’s website.”

Mr Wall-Smith said comment can be left on the Independent Planning Commission’s website  and will be considered as a formal submission.

A petition against the proposal can be found at Change.org


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About Mick Roberts

A Sydney journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.

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