“IT’S the NSW Government and the mining industry in cahoots again to shaft the community.”
That was how former Wybong resident Christine Phelps responded after news Muswellbrook Shire Council is taking legal action to recover $5 million revealed in a secret deed of agreement between the government and Ridgelands Coal Resources over a Wybong mine proposal.
The mining company was supposed to have promoted a $5 million community fund to groups that could apply for grants, but the 2013 exploration licence agreement condition remained secret until July when the company offered the council $500,000, just six months before its exploration licence lapses.
“I’m really pleased the council is doing this. Good on them,” said Mrs Phelps, a former Muswellbrook councillor who sold her Wybong farm a year ago because of the impact of mining at nearby Mangoola.
Her comments came as the NSW Department of Planning declined to comment, other than to confirm it had “referred the matter to the resources regulator, who is investigating”. The council is preparing for a NSW Supreme Court directions hearing in late August.
Mrs Phelps was scathing of the government, after the deed showed Ridgelands was required to report the fund’s operations to the government on a regular basis from 2013. Breaching exploration licence conditions is an offence with a $1.1 million penalty.
“This begs the question of where’s the department’s policing of these consent conditions? We know they don’t police them. It’s always been left to the local community to lodge complaints when mines do the wrong thing, and because it’s a complaints-driven system it puts a huge burden on the community,” Mrs Phelps said.
“It makes everything in your life about the mining industry. You’re forever reporting and trying to get the department to do something when mines do the wrong thing.”
Mrs Phelps lived at Wybong for more than 20 years before selling, after mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of Mangoola mine would have “meant we’d be virtually locked inside with air conditioning”.
“It was tough leaving,” she said.
“We were in the buffer zone, and we had seven years of negotiations with them, trying to get them to mitigate the impacts of the mine. There’s still a couple of people live up there but it’s being taken over by mining.”
Mrs Phelps said the $5 million for community projects was “a substantial amount that would make a huge difference, whatever use it could be put to”.
“The council has massive plans. That money could be bloody handy.”