EXTENDING the lifespan of a Muswellbrook coal mine would shut off diversification options for the Hunter, a hearing has been told.
Several speakers on Thursday urged the Independent Planning Commission to block Glencore's bid to extract another 52 million tonnes by expanding its Mangoola mine in a submissions hearing's second day.
The company says their rehabilitation is industry leading and they invest heavily in local jobs and businesses, but critics honed in on air quality, noise, emissions and the "expansion and creep" of coal mines that encircle the town.
Scone beef cattle breeder and health worker Nicola Robertson said it was imperative that the proposal did not proceed to ensure "what remains of our Hunter Valley is here for years to come" while veterinarian Dr Catherine Chicken pointed to air quality decline over recent years.
"Suffice to say the cumulative impacts are clear for all of us who are living here to see, smell and sometimes even taste," she said.
Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Cameron Collins argued that ongoing mining growth in the region hampered efforts to attract investment in equine and other industries, inferring that it threatened turning parts of the valley into a ghost town.
"As mining operations continue to advance on agricultural land we see less and less opportunity for diversification and less and less interest by external parties in moving to the Hunter," Dr Collins said.
"They see us purely as a quarry.
"In our view this is yet another mining proposal which has at its core significant social, economic and environmental costs that have not been adequately assessed, cannot be mitigated by consent conditons and in the end will be borne by the local community if there was one left to bear it."
Lock The Gate alliance's Georgina Woods said that it was Glencore's "over-hasty" mining that had led to the mine's potential closure before its 2029 expiry and accused the company of using its workforce as a bargaining chip.
"There is a genuine and very serious threat that this project will do economic harm to the Muswellbrook local government area because it continues and deepens its dependence on the coal export industry to the detriment of other activities at a time when change is already underway," she said.
"Muswellbrook is a notable pocket of disadvantage in the region amid the broader regional prosperity. Aboriginal unemployment is 21 per cent, the percentage of people living on welfare in that local government area is twice the upper Hunter average."
Australia Institute research director Roderick Campbell said he believed that planners had endorsed Glencore's analysis of the project's economic impacts uncritically in their report to commissioner Professor Snow
"The [positive] value of this project put forward by the department has been radically overstated, and they know it," he said.
"There are clearly impacts to the local people and local industries that we would estimate range into the tens of millions that haven't been accounted for here.
"I think the economic value for this project from the point of view of the NSW community is questionable and likely to be negative."
The Newcastle Herald reported on Thursday that numerous written submissions backing the expansion pointed to its economic benefits for the area.
Department of Planning Industry and Environment's Matthew Sprott and Mike Young told the commissioners they believed there was "substantial value" in approving the project but conceded that did not mean it was flawless.
"Our obligations are to ensure that economic assessment is undertaken in accordance with the relevant guidelines," Mr Young said.
Wybong resident Kim Nightingale said that her family lived "a couple of kilometres away" from the present digging that she said approval would bring as close as 800 metres.
"There's a misconception that the mine creates jobs in the local area," she said. "The majority of workers live down around Newcastle."
Mangoola Coal operations manager Nick Slater told the commission on Wednesday that 88 per cent of staff were from "local communities" and the company had spent half a billion with Hunter businesses in the past five years.
"We have a proven track record," he said. "Overall, the project will deliver an additional $120 million in royalties (in present value terms) to help the NSW Government continue to pay the wages of nurses, teachers and Police and build much-needed public infrastructure."
Written submissions close March 11.