As a court decision on whether to allow Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine to go ahead draws closer, Lock the Gate Alliance claim they have mounting evidence that the project received approval on the back of “false and misleading” information.
The Northern Inland Council for the Environment filed a challenge to appeal the proposed mine in July, challenging the validity of former federal environment minister Tony Burke’s decision to approve the project.
The group claim Burke approved the mine without viewing an adequate offset package.
The court’s decision on whether the project should proceed is pending.
As part of the approval process, Whitehaven had agreed to develop biodiversity offset areas to compensate for environmental impacts.
However, Lock the Gate national coordinator Phil Laird says the offsets proposed by Whitehaven were not mapped correctly.
"The new expert reports confirm that the offsets do not provide 'like for like' habitat for the critically endangered box gum woodland, but are in fact a completely different ecosystem that is not under threat," Laird said.
In the new report, ecologist Wendy Hawes said she agrees mapping had not been sufficient.
”I know that at least four areas on the ‘Wirradale’ and ‘Mt Lindesay’ offset properties do not constitute the Critically Endangered Ecological Community (CEEC) that is protected under the Federal EPBC Act.” Hawes said.
“I fully concur with the January findings of North West Ecological Services that the dominant vegetation community in areas mapped by the proponent as White Box grassy woodland was in fact Stringybark Open Forest.”
Laird is calling on Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, to revoke the approval until an investigation into the claims has been completed.
“Evidence provided by these two new experts indicate that Whitehaven Coal stand to make many millions of dollars from a new coal mine that was approved on the basis of false information,” he said.
“If the approval was based on false information, the approval should be revoked as the community can have no confidence in the mining assessment process if this kind of debacle is allowed to stand.”
The project has been a contentious issue in the local community since its inception.
Protests broke out after the decision to grant environmental approval was handed down, with Traditional Owners claiming Whitehaven hasn’t done enough in its Cultural Heritage Management Plan to preserve cultural artefacts
Gomeroi Traditional Owner Stephen Talbott said the company has not carried out proper consultation and said more respect needs to be shown to local Indigenous culture.
Whitehaven have previously stated that the ‘mere commencement of litigation’ would not stop the company in continuing with construction work.
“The Maules Creek coal project involved a comprehensive assessment and decision-making process,'' the company has previously said.
Whitehaven was quick to point out that the action taken was to determine whether Burke committed an error of law in granting the approval and that it was not a merits appeal.
“The court does not have the task of determining whether or not the project should be approved,'' Whitehaven said.
Whitehaven Coal was contacted to make a comment on their offset package – the company failed to reply by the time of publication.