There are fears plans for a massive sand mine in the New South Wales Southern Highlands could jeopardise waterways that feed into Sydney’s water catchment.
The proposed Sutton Forest sandstone quarry and processing plant would be the size of about 60 football fields, including an extraction area, processing and stockpiling area of 64 hectares, just off the Hume Highway.
Landholders are angry about the potential impact of noise, dust, and lighting, and a water scientist says the damage on the ecosystem could be irreversible.
Western Sydney University environmental science lecturer, Ian Wright, has been testing local waterways for contamination from mining for 20 years.
He fears the fragile ecosystem, which feeds into Sydney’s water catchment supplying 5 million people, could be irreparably damaged.
“The proposed mine does pose substantial and unquantified risks,” said Dr Wright.
“It’s likely that it’s going to change the hydrology of this area and it’s likely to produce sediment-laden run-off with a whole series of contaminants.”
The quarry will dig about 60 metres below the ground, impacting on Long Swamp Creek and Sting Ray Swamp. It is expected to create 20 full-time jobs and employ 50 contractors in the construction phase.
An environmental impact statement (EIS) cites a risk of contaminating groundwater and reducing the water availability for agriculture and domestic use.
“We get a lot of intense rainfall here,” Dr Wright said.
“Any major human activity that involves clearing of vegetation [and] disturbance of soil and rock has the opportunity of creating soil erosion and transporting eroded material into waterways.
Dr Wright said the project presented considerable risk for the “fragile system” that was already under pressure.
“These waterways are the lifeblood of the local ecosystems and the lifeblood of the Sydney [catchment] now and in the future, a catchment that currently supplies water for about 5 million people with more to come.”
Dr Wright has been working to help clean up the nearby Berrima Colliery, which shut in 2013, but continues to cause pollution today.
“The company Boral is doing a great job to remediate but to be honest we are never going to fix it. That mine is going to create pollution for decades, possibly centuries.”
Not in my backyard
Bernadette Lawler lives next to the proposed mine site. Her property has been owned by her family for more than 40 years and is mostly native bush.
“There will be a road formed right on our boundary line, which will have trucks running up and down it every four to five minutes for 14 hours a day,” Ms Lawler said.
The bush corridor of crown land bordering her property will link to the nearby Hume Highway, with a new highway overpass and local access roads.
“The noise, the dust and those health impacts, the blasting that they are planning — it’s a 24 hour operation. The lighting will affect all the flora and fauna.”
She said to block out noise from the new neighbour, a 3.8 metre concrete wall would go up on either side of the quarry.
“I am frustrated and angry that large corporations can target an area and think it’s easy pickings for development, ruining the reason why we are all here. Every single person lives here because of the wilderness, the quiet.”
Ms Lawler said communication with the proponent has been “extremely poor” and there had been little consultation.
She is part of Save Our Sands Alliance, a community representative group opposing the plan.
Sand for construction
The quarry is projected to run for 30 years, extracting at a rate of 1.15 million tonnes a year.
Overall, about 28 million tonnes of sandstone will be dug up. The rock has lain dormant for 225 million years.
Sydney’s continuing construction boom is demanding about 6 million tonnes of sand every year.
Most of that has come from quarries at Kurnell and Penrith. The Penrith quarry shut down in 2015.
Part of Great Western Wildlife Corridor would be cleared
A section of the Great Western Wildlife Corridor, the only native vegetated habitat from the Blue Mountains to Morton National Park, would be cleared and narrowed to 500 metres in parts.
The corridor was established to facilitate the interaction of endangered animals.
At the site, 195 native flora and 26 exotic species have been identified.
They include nine threatened species: the powerful owl, gang gang cockatoo, glossy black cockatoo, scarlet robin, varied sittella, squirrel glider, eastern bentwing bat, greater broad-nosed bat and large-eared pied bat.
The threatened plants are the Paddy’s River Swamp gum and Dwarf Phyllota.
“What we are all scared about is that a proposal like this could have an unknown impact for an incredibly long period of time on the ecosystem and future generations,” Dr Wright said.
The quarry would operate from 4am on Mondays to midnight on Fridays and dispatch products 24 hours a day.
Resident Bernadette Lawler is concerned the bright lights, noise and blasting used to operate the mine will destroy nocturnal habitats.
“Sixty per cent of our place is bushland,” she said.
“We fear it will grossly impact on the amount of birdlife coming through. We constantly get kangaroos through this area.
The EIS report found traffic would present a high inconvenience to motorists and there could be a moderate number of native animals killed on access roads.
Quarry would have safeguards for noise, air quality and water, company says
Public submissions on the proposed quarry close on June 21.
The NSW Department of Planning says it has received about 20 submissions.
“Following the EIS exhibition, the proponent, Sutton Forest Quarries, will then prepare a Response to Submissions (RtS) report,” said a spokesperson for the department.
“The department is also planning to hold a community meeting to better understand concerns and address these in its assessment, which will also provide an opportunity for Sutton Forest Quarries to hear the community’s concerns directly.”
The department will then complete its assessment, taking into account the EIS, community submissions, comments from local government and the RtS.
“If there are more than 25 public objections, then the department’s assessment report and recommendations are sent to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) for final consideration and a decision,” the spokesperson said.
In a written statement, Sutton Forest Quarries said the assessments completed during the preparation of the environmental impact statement (EIS) had been comprehensive.
It said representatives held a community information session earlier this month and 30 residents attended.
The company said:
“The quarry and its operations have been designed with safeguards to ensure that all potential adverse impacts relating to noise, air quality, surface water and groundwater met the criteria set by the NSW Government.”
It said after the public exhibition period, the company would respond to and clarify concerns raised.
Reference: ABC News