A recommendation to not allow open-cut mining to proceed because of the impacts on the natural and scenic values of the Gardens of Stone in the Ben Bullen state forest near Lithgow has been welcomed by conservation groups.
Last week the Department of Planning recommended the Coalpac proposal to mine along the valleys and slopes of the western edge of the Ben Bullen state forest not be approved.
The assessment found the conservation values of the site were significant, “and that the project would essentially destroy these values, and significantly compromise the conservation significance of surrounding areas”.
“The department considers these impacts to be unacceptable and cannot be mitigated. Further, it believes the site is fundamentally unsuitable for such a large scale open-cut mining proposal,” the report said.
In December 2012, the Planning Assessment Commission recommended refusal of the proposal. The commission will now consider the proposal for a second time, taking into account the recommendation from the Department of Planning that the mine be refused.
Blue Mountains Conser-vation Society vice president Tara Cameron welcomed the recommendation.
“It’s a sound decision and has taken a lot of thought,” she said.
“We will be keeping an eye on it and hoping they [the panel] will make a good decision.”
She was hopeful the panel’s decision would be in keeping with the previous recommendations, and said it was pleasing to see the environmental societies campaigns had had an effect.
“We’ve been working on this for a number of years and it’s been a massive effort by members of societies and people throughout the area,” she said.
More than 800 submissions opposing the mining were received. Community submissions raised concerns about health impacts from dust pollution, impacts on threatened species and destruction of unique geological features.
In the report, however, the Department of Planning left it open for the proposal to proceed on a smaller scale.
Ms Cameron thought this was unlikely to occur as the company would need to restart the process and submit a new proposal.
She said the conservation society was now focused on the long-term protection of the Ben Bullen state forest, and would be campaigning for it to be declared a state conservation area.
This would allow underground mining to proceed but not open-cut mining, and would therefore stop open-cut extension plans to the Pinedale coal mine also in the Ben Bullen state forest.