By Rich Evans
It was a full house at the Workies on Wednesday morning as the community support for the Springvale extension left standing room only in the main auditorium. More than 200 people packed out the room to listen to the registered speakers give their opinions in regards to the proposal from Centennial Coal.
In what turned into a marathon sitting, the 38 registered speakers offered a number of opinions and cases both for and against the proposal. Clr Maree Statham gave a passionate plea for the area and highlighted the negative impact rejecting the extension would have, a theme that carried throughout the day, sometimes at a very personal level.
Despite the large audience there were minimal interruptions to the proceedings even when the point of view being discussed was clearly in opposition to the thoughts of the majority of the crowd.
Howard Fisher OAM spoke in his position as Chairman of Westfund, saying it was his belief that not granting the extension could signal hard times ahead for the local economy. He suggested it would require other businesses in the region – such as Westfund – to reconsider the level of investment they are making in the local community.
The evidence that was provided by many of those opposing the extension was thorough, and the real causes for concern by the environmental supporters were the threats to the hanging swamps within the proposed zone, as well as water quality. The Lithgow Environmental Group spokesperson Chris Jonkers said a 2% alteration to the proposal was all they were asking, and many were looking to find a way to compromise to achieve the best for both worlds. The question remains, if a 2% alteration is made to the project, does that impact on the viability of the mine commercially? Something that will need to be considered by the commissioners during their determination period.
Many were concerned about the ‘out-of-towners’ giving their opinions on something that would have a huge impact on local families.
Of the registered speakers, the balance were clearly in favour of the proposal, but this does not necessarily reflect the balance of the written submissions. However, the emotional pleas from the local miners and business owners – those who will be directly impacted by the eventual decision – has hopefully given the PAC the clear view of the way their decision will impact the community.
There have been other PAC hearings over the past 24 months which have not seen the level of support this particular extension did. Perhaps it was fear based on previous outcomes that mobilised the community this time, but whatever it the reason, the support showed that the community of Lithgow are looking for a positive decision from the PAC when they hand down their determination at the end of June.
Local Coal mining elder statesman and Chairman of the Lithgow Forum Dick Austen was one of the final speakers of the day and was able to hold the audience throughout a presentation where he was afforded a generous extension of time, in which he implored the commissioners to drive home via the Vale of Clwydd and through Browns Gap. There they would see the composition of the coal seam mined locally and he offered them knowledge from his many years involved in the industry that the geological formations of the layers offered the best protection to the concerns of environmentalists. He also discussed the issue of water quality asking them to remember the water is bundled through a number of process and dams before coming out a tap in Sydney.
For a full rundown of proceedings, see our as it happened to the right.