Police have cut free and hauled off protesters who chained themselves to gates to blockade roads into a controversial coal mine project in north-west NSW.
Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek project, near Boggabri, has been the target of sustained protests from environmentalists.
On Monday, scores of activists linked to Greenpeace and anti-coal and gas group Lock the Gate blockaded four entrances to the site to stop trucks and other vehicles from gaining access.
They argue the Maules Creek mine will destroy irreplaceable critically endangered woodland in the Leard State Forest, draw down the aquifer used by local farmers and release thousands of tonnes of coal dust onto surrounding farms.
Protest spokeswoman Georgina Woods said three protesters who chained themselves to a gate to stop trucks going in had been cut free by police, arrested and taken away on Monday morning.
She told AAP that police were on their way to deal with 75-year-old first-time protester Raymond McLaren, who was chained to an old car blocking another road into the site.
‘‘From our perspective we see what’s happening today as the beginning of more and more people coming out here to defend this forest and stop this mine,’’ Ms Woods said.
‘‘We’re all determined to stop it from going ahead.’’Earlier, Mr McLaren told AAP by phone that he opposed the mine despite the fact his Tamworth engineering firm builds equipment for the mining sector.
‘‘Our civilisation needs the mining industry but in this case, they are just going to destroy a forest for the coal that they want under it,’’ he said.
‘‘The state forest out here is too precious to sacrifice - there’s not much of it left.’’
A Whitehaven Coal spokesman said the Maules Creek project had passed a comprehensive, independent assessment process and protesters should respect the final judgment of consent authorities that it proceed.
‘‘Protests at our project sites are a nuisance but they will not deter Whitehaven from getting on with the job of building Maules Creek and delivering the substantial economic benefits which we know the local community strongly supports.’’
The NSW Minerals Council said the protesters were engaged in a ‘‘political stunt’’ and their ‘‘reckless actions’’ put themselves, mine employees and emergency service personnel at serious risk of injury.