INDIGENOUS and environmental opponents to the Chinese-owned Watermark coal project are pressuring financial institutions over their investment in the project, linking it to the Juukan Gorge controversy in WA, where Rio Tinto destroyed two culturally significant caves last month in a mine blast.
The Watermark story began in 2008 when China Shenhua offered the NSW government an estimated $600 million to explore and develop the 9500-hectare site, near Breeza, about 45 kilometres south of Gunnedah.
The Shenhua Group of companies is recognised as state-owned but has subsidiaries listed on stock exchanges.
THE WATERMARK FILE:
- 2013: Gateway panel to scrutinise proposal
- January 2015: The Herald's Opinion, mining the Liverpool Plains
- July 13, 2015: Give Shenhua's cash back, say farmers
- July 15, 2015: Alan Jones lets fly at Tony Abbott over Shenhua
- July 15, 2015: Koalas 'doomed' if mine goes ahead
- July 15, 2017: Govt pays $262 million to buy back part of Shenhua lease
- January 2019: NSW removes barrier to Watermark construction
- May 2019: Call to revoke approval over water modelling study
- August 2019: Govt paid $262 million for land Shenhua didn't want, says Lock The Gate
China Shenhua Energy's shareholders include US firm Blackrock, holding almost 6 per cent in a stake worth more than $3 billion.
Construction industry super fund CBUS has a much smaller stake worth about $4.5 million.
Members of a group of Gomeroi "traditional custodians", supported by the NSW Environmental Defender's Office, have been fighting for years to stop the $1.2 million project going ahead, concerned about the destruction of Aboriginal artefacts noted in the project's 2013 environmental impact statement.
The Watermark EIS commits to an Indigenous management plan for the site.
Physical inspections revealed 51 new Aboriginal archaeological sites, as well as four previously known.
Two of three "grinding groove sites" would be relocated, and other materials gathered and preserved.
The EIS lists the "Registered Aboriginal Parties" and individuals who surveyed the area and advised on the significance of its artefacts.
The first coal exploration rights for the Liverpool Plains were won in 2006 by BHP Billiton (as BHP was at the time), which offered $100 million for the Caroona lease.
Maules Creek and other mines operate north-west of Gunnedah but the Watermark area is viewed as more important agriculturally.
The EIS says coal would be a "significantly more efficient land use", financially, than continued farming.
China Shenhua says it hopes to start building the mine next year.
All of the mines in the Gunnedah Basin rail their coal to the Port of Newcastle for export.
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