Australia: The Australasian wine industry and the physical environment: some recent Australian observations: Part 3 - Mining in wine regions

Last Updated: 4 July 2014
Article by Paul Kordic

8.1 Conservation Council joins fight against Margaret River coal mine

OPPOSITION to plans to open a coal mine in Margaret River is mounting, with the WA Conservation Council saying the operation would be at odds with everything that makes the region a world class tourist destination.

Adding to mounting opposition to the plan, Conservation Council Director Piers Verstegen said the mine would be pose a major threat to the pristine Margaret River environment.

"Margaret River is a world class winery, tourism and surfing drawcard and in the past few months we have seen oil rigs proposed for the coastline and now a coalmine proposed for the backyard of this iconic region," he said.

"Heavy industrial operations like oil drilling and coal mining are totally incompatible with everything that makes the Margaret River region Western Australia's favourite holiday destination.

"A coal mine next to Margaret River would have a range of serious environmental impacts including air pollution that is damaging to human health and the viticulture industry that the region is so famous for.

"In addition, it is difficult to see how coal could be mined in this sensitive area without major impacts to the regions precious groundwater supplied by the Yarragadee aquifer.

"This proposal comes a matter of weeks after the Barnett Government announced a massive coal expansion with three new coal fire power stations and the refurbishment of two old polluting dinosaurs from forty years ago.

"Western Australia's carbon pollution is already projected to increase by 75%, and further coal mining would increase that even more.

"Given the vulnerability of Australia's Southwest to a drying climate, there is no case to support coal mining in the area, which would only add to the climate change problem.

"Instead, Margaret River should invest in clean, renewable energy technology that can support and enhance its international image as a first class environmental tourism destination."

The Conservation Council joins tourism authorities, residents, community groups and the Margaret River Wine Industry Association in expressing grave concerns about the project.

The growing backlash against the mine comes as Margaret River battles Federal Government approval for offshore petroleum exploration in the Mentelle Basin, less than 100km from the region's pristine beaches.

The proposed underground coal mine, known as the Vasse Coal Project, is just 15km from the heart of the wine and tourism town.

Augusta-Margaret River deputy shire president Jenny McGregor confirmed that councillors had been briefed by New South Wales-based miner LD Operations about a plan to extract coal from what is known as the Leederville aquifer.

A State Government spokesman confirmed LD Operations was applying for planning and environmental approvals.

The "significant" ore body would create an estimated 200 direct jobs over the next 20 years, the spokesman said.

LD Operations confirmed it was speaking to the Department of State Development over the proposal and community consultation was due to start soon.

Meanwhile, the bidding process continues for a 13,000sq km swath of ocean earmarked for petroleum exploration off Margaret River.

8.2 Margaret River region under threat from mine plan

AN underground coalmine planned for Western Australia's world-class wine region of Margaret River has infuriated and mobilised locals.

The backlash has been so strong it has forced Premier Colin Barnett to hint that the state government may oppose the controversial project.

But that has not stopped celebrity chef and local property owner Ian Parmenter and others rallying against the Vasse project, earmarked for development just 15km east of the township.

The project is 70 per cent funded by American Metals and Coal International, headed by US mining billionaire Hans Mende, who also has major interests in coal projects in NSW and South Australia. The remaining 30 per cent stake is held by Perth-based Core Coal, whose sole director is local businessman Norm Taylor.

Winemakers and dairy farmers are worried the mine will contaminate streams that feed the Margaret River and Leederville Aquifer, which sit above the coal deposit, and believe their produce and livestock could be affected by dust.

Mr Barnett has said the project will face tougher environmental assessments because of Margaret River's high-value tourism and agricultural industries.

But Parmenter, co-convener of resident group NO COALition, said: "It has to be stopped now. It can't be stopped at the end of a two-year process. In the meantime, the whole region's on hold.

"People have contacted me saying, 'We don't know if we should go ahead with our building'. Other neighbours have said, 'We're trying to sell a property and we've got Buckley's chance with this under our land'."

Garry Cain is a third-generation dairy farmer whose property is 500m from the mine-site boundary. "Our concern as a dry land farmer is once they start messing around with the water flow, we'll lose our water table and our ability to grow grass for feeding cattle," he said.

John Standish, viticulturalist at Jane Brook winery, just 1km from the mine site, said no one from the mine had come to see them or provided information.

"Coalmines need to be vented even if they are underground," he said. "The coalmine would be going underneath this vineyard and our dam. You'd assume there'd be a vent in the area, and if those chemicals that are vented are taken up by the grapes, that would be a significant threat."

But LD Operations general manager Peter Ross said there would be no smokestacks, coal stockpiles or power stations, and the company would not allow trucks on residential roads.

8.3 Wines, mines and water

The Upper Hunter Winemakers Association press release concerning Anvil Hill mine approval, 17 May 2007

Press Release – Wines, mines and water

The Upper Hunter Winemakers Association (UHWA) represents the interests of grape growers and winemakers of the Upper Hunter Valley. For some time now the UHWA has opposed the expansion of mining in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. The Upper Hunter has a long history in the wine industry and is an important economic contributor to the region. The areas vineyards and wineries provide significant employment opportunities and the flow on effects of wine tourism create economic, social and cultural benefits to the region. Continued expansion of mining will directly affect some of our individual members and it has the potential to seriously impact on the future viability of our industry in this region. The UHWA has therefore opposed the Anvil Hill coal mine for the following reasons:

  1. Displacement of existing Vineyards. Several existing vineyards have already been purchased by Centennial Coal and several more are under threat. The wine and tourism industry needs a critical mass to survive and the removal of some of our more prominent vineyards impacts on the viability of the industry and the credibility of this area as a serious wine region. There are also several more vineyards/wineries that are just out of the area of affectation that will also be impacted. As much as the mining industry would like to believe that mining and wine tourism can co-exist, that is certainly not the view of the wine tourism industry.
  2. Dust created from the mine will impact on surrounding vineyards and local communities. Recent winds have been a reminder of the weather extremes we can experience in this region with severe north westerly winds which would no doubt significantly impact on the Denman community.
  3. Water use by a mine the size of Anvil Hill is significant. Hunter River water users are currently under threat of having their water allocations severely reduced which will make some farms unviable and cause some farmers to leave the land. It is not acceptable that in this environment the Government is considering the approval of a coal mine with water use of this scale. There has been no guarantee that damage will not occur to ground water supplies and aquifers located within the Wybong Creek catchment area. Of further concern is the expansion of mining activity in the Mudgee/Ulan area which will directly affect water availability in the Goulburn River, a major contributor to Hunter River flow.
  4. The Upper Hunter is already a very large coal producer with a high concentration of coal mines in the area. We do not believe that the cumulative impacts of building yet another mine in the area have been fully considered. The mine is stated to produce 10.5 million tonnes of coal per year which will further impact on the area's dust and noise pollution, leading to further deterioration of the local environment. Large vehicular traffic and rail movements will also be dramatically increased with an average of almost 30,000 tonnes of coal per day to be removed from the site. These impacts will also affect the health and wellbeing of the local communities.

In summary, the Upper Hunter Winemakers Association holds significant fears for the viability of the wine industry in the Upper Hunter region if any further new mines are approved. I am sure many are aware that our concerns are shared with the thoroughbred horse industry, members of which tragically feel that they may be forced to leave the Hunter Valley if more new mines are approved. Our Association wishes to emphasise in the strongest terms our concerns in relation to water usage and environmental damage that is occurring as a result of the concentration of coal mining activity in the Upper Hunter region.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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