RESIDENTS fighting to protect the iconic Upper Hunter gorge area known as The Drip have called for all documents relating to its controversial secret sale to a coalmining company.
Mudgee District Environment Group lodged a freedom of information request after Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings raised questions about key players involved with the conversion of the site from Crown land to freehold title.
The Drip was sold in late 2010 to Yancoal’s Moolarben Coal without any public consultation, while Labor’s Tony Kelly was minister for lands. The sale outraged residents and environmental groups when it became known in 2012.
Mr Kelly, later found to have engaged in corrupt conduct during the government purchase of a Sydney property, was also minister responsible for revoking the Camberwell Common in 2010 with no community consultation.
Crown Lands did not object when Yancoal then lodged a mining lease application for its Ashton south-east open cut mine over the common in late 2010.
The Drip gorge area is under threat by Yancoal’s plans to expand its Moolarben mining operations.
The Drip, at Ulan between Denman and Mudgee, is on the Goulburn River, which is the main western tributary to the Hunter River.
‘‘The key issue preventing the protection of this iconic, water-dependent landscape seems to be the ownership of the land,’’ said Mudgee District Environment Group spokeswoman Bev Smiles.
‘‘We believe the sale of The Drip was not undertaken in a proper manner. The area should be returned to the people of NSW and protected within the Goulburn River National Park.’’
In a letter to the Department of Lands in September 2008, Ulan landowner Julia Imrie voiced residents’ concerns that The Drip might have been the subject of moves to convert it to freehold title.
She called on the department to protect the area.
In a response in 2008, the Crown Lands office at Dubbo said it was ‘‘obvious that the lease will be assessed with high conservation values’’, and consideration might be given to ‘‘acquiring this land as it is adjacent to the Goulburn River National Park’’.