Despite strong local community opposition supported by the Upper Hunter Shire Council the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has today ruled the Dartbrook underground mine near Aberdeen can re-open.
This decision will not be welcomed by nearby landholders who fear the mine's reopening will affect their underground water supplies and adversely impact their rural community.
However the IPC have stated the mine can only operate until 2022 - a decision that may affect the overall financial viability of the project.
The mine has been in care and maintenance since 2006 and was sold by mining giant Anglo American to Australian Pacific Coal (AQC) in 2016 - a company with no mining experience.
In their ruling the IPC said the mine can recommence operations using bord-and-pillar methods not the usual longwall methods and extract six million tonnes of coal until December 2022.
In their reasons for ruling on the reopening the Commissioners said the bord and pillar methods were less intensive than the existing approved longwall methods and that the impacts that would occur can be mitigated by strict conditions.
However the Commissioners refused to extend the life of the mine for further five years until 2027 as requested by AQC due to questions concerning the economic viability of the project.
The Commission stated there were inadequacies in the economic, social and environmental assessment for the project and their likely impacts.
Due to these failings the Commission remained unconvinced that the application to extend the approval to 2027 is in the public interest.
Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association has previously described the reopening of the underground mine as a Trojan horse for the development of an open cut mine on the site.
In their submission on the modification it stated "that AQC intend to proceed to open cut mining and that the re-commissioning of underground mining is a first step in the open cut direction."
Dartbrook mine will be located 1.3km from Aberdeen and will require 192 B Double trucks on a daily basis to move coal to the railway siding for shipment.
Some of the conditions imposed by the IPC on the project was the requirement for the coal haul roads to the sealed and the proponent must implement dust control measures and not re-open the coal washery.
Friends of the Upper Hunter, who strongly opposed the reopening of the mine, commented today saying the problem is that even this short approval guarantees even greater air quality impacts than we're already seeing - where we regularly exceed health guidelines for PM10 levels.
"It also leaves our community vulnerable to Australian Pacific Coal's real plan - which is ultimately to develop an open cut mine the size of Adani right on the doorstep of Aberdeen and the Hunter River," their spokesperson said.
"We're glad that the Commission at least saw reason and refused the company's request for an additional five years beyond 2022 and acknowledged that this mine isn't in the public interest in the long term, we just fail to see how it can then be in the public interest in the short term.
"Dartbrook is the wrong mine in the wrong place with a totally inexperienced company at the wheel. The CEO John Robinson Jnr promised publicly on 7 April to answer this community's questions about this mine and he has failed time and again to deliver those answers.
"Given that he now has an approval he needs to explain how his company will operate this mine without jeopardising the health of our local environment and community. Our concerns about the safety of our community and of workers remain unresolved.
"Friends of the Upper Hunter will definitely be following up on this. We will be coming back to the local community with further advice in the coming weeks."
Lock the Gate Alliance also welcomed the the decision by the IPC to refuse a five year extension of the notorious Dartbrook mine.
LTGA NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said the IPC had listened to strong opposition from the local community when rejecting the extension.
"We're pleased to see the IPC taking the impact of this mine extension seriously given the significant impacts it would have on the local community, strategic farmland and air quality" Ms Woods said.
"This detailed and considered decision by the IPC on the extension contrasts starkly with the Department of Planning's cursory and superficial assessment which recommended approval.
"Too often, the department appears to be happy to sign off on coal mining projects without considering the disastrous impacts they will have."
Ms Woods said Lock the Gate remained concerned about operations resuming at the Dartbrook mine, where three fatalities had occurred prior to 2006 when the project was mothballed.
"There were also ongoing issues with gas, spontaneous combustion and flooding," she said.
"We urge the Department to carefully monitor the situation at Dartbrook and take immediate action at the first sign of any danger."