A healthy crowd turned out in Springwood town square on Saturday to protest against an open-cut mining proposal in bushland north of Lithgow.
An application by Coalpac to expand its operations by 843 hectares in the Ben Bullen State Forest is on public exhibition until June 1 before the NSW Planning Assessment Commission decides the proposal’s fate.
Conservation groups argue the project would have a catastrophic impact on the Gardens of Stone, an area known for its iconic rock formations and abundance of native wildlife.
Keith Muir, from the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, told the rally an increase in open-cut mining would “turn the gateway to the World Heritage Area into a moonscape”.
“It will not be able to be repaired or restored in any decent way whatsoever,” said Mr Muir.
Opponents of Coalpac’s proposal are campaigning for 40,000 hectares of the Gardens of Stone to be made a state conservation area, which would prevent open-cut mining but allow underground operations to continue.
The move received support last year from the NSW opposition and Labor spokeswoman for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle urged local residents to get behind the campaign.
She said Mountains residents would be affected by the project in the form of an increase in trucks travelling on the Great Western Highway.
“We have an absolutely beautiful and unique part of our environment very seriously under threat . . . The Gardens of Stone has a unique biodiversity and geological characteristics that must be preserved,” said Ms Doyle.
“[The project] will cut along the entire ridge line . . . of our Blue Mountains National Park.”
Blue Mountains Conservation Society is encouraging the community to make its feelings known on the Coalpac proposal by making a submission before the public exhibition period comes to an end.
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the opposition to the Coalpac proposal was a rallying point in the fight against increased mining across NSW.
“It’s very symbolic in that we cannot afford to continue allowing these types of developments in areas that are absolutely irreplaceable, that can’t be offset, that can’t be just shunted off to the habitat next door,” she said.
Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage could not attend the rally due to prior commitments but told the Gazette in a statement that the final decision would take into account consultation with key stakeholders including recreational and conservation groups.
Mrs Sage pointed out that Lithgow City Council had objected to the reservation of land in the area last month due to its potential impact on recreational use and mining.
“Future land use decisions in this area will need to balance the importance of coal mining to the local economy, current recreational programs as well as opportunities for conservation,” said Mrs Sage.