Minister overrides DOC mine advice

By Laura Mills

Conservation Minister Nick Smith went against his own department’s advice to grant an access agreement for the proposed Denniston open-cast coalmine — including a warning that the Australian miner was being “overly optimistic”.
Dr Smith last week announced he had granted an access agreement to Bathurst Resources, to be compensated by the biggest package in conservation history, valued at $22 million over 35 years.
Bathurst says its 106ha Escarpment Mine will create hundreds of jobs.
Last year, the company’s chief executive Hamish Bohannan said they could restore the Denniston Plateau to a better condition than it is now, after open-cast mining.
He said on tv that open-cast mining merely turned the soil.
“It’s a bit like farming, the difference is, once mining’s finished you put it back ... and what we can do today is put things back pretty well as they were before, and make improvements.”
However, the Department of Conservation report to the minister, dated May 6, said the access arrangement should not be granted.
As no one had really tried the rehabilitation proposed before, DOC said there was a “degree of crystal ball gazing involved in the analysis and that predicting long term outcomes is challenging”.
DOC felt that Bathurst may be overly optimistic.
The report also reveals that the miner’s rehabilitation plan would include reconstructing 1.3km of streams, partly using boulders.
It would build its own ‘boulder fields’ to try to replicate the sandstone pavement habitat of the Denniston Plateau.
DOC lists a number of things that would be destroyed by the mining, including historic features, Brasils Dam, all remains of fluming around the Escarpment Mine, and all traces of the Birchall’s Co-operative Mine and Plateau Mine.
Restoration could only be “partially achieved” once mining ended, because of permanent changes to hydrology, soils, and microclimate.
“Overall, the department believes that there would be significant — and in some cases, irreversible — losses of conservation value should the proposal proceed.”
Previous mining on the Denniston Plateau was predominantly underground so the remaining habitat, including the area under application by Bathurst, was relatively unmodified.