Stop the Russell Vale Coal Mine Expansion on the Illawarra Escarpment

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The Illawarra Escarpment and our Water Catchment is under threat from plans to expand coal mining. On 16 September 2020 the NSW Department of Planning gave its support to a plan submitted by Wollongong Coal to expand its Russell Vale coal mining operations on the Illawarra Escarpment. The Russell Vale Underground Expansion Project has been referred to the Independent Planning Commission of NSW. Three Commissioners have been appointed who will conduct a public hearing on Monday 19 October 2020 so they can hear directly the views and concerns from community members.

In addition to serious environmental and water pollution concerns, there is an important ‘public amenity’ argument against expanding the coal mine. The Russell Vale coal mine is located on a beautiful part of the Illawarra Escarpment that has become an increasingly popular site for recreational use. Mountain bikers, trail runners, bushwalkers and naturists from across the Illawarra and beyond regularly use the area for sustainable activities, which provide for a real connection to the land and desire to care for our local environment. 

In the absence of any apparent landcare, weed control, site maintenance or active regulation of the site by its ‘owners’, we feel like it is up to us - the local population -  to ensure this area is looked after and protected. There should be no ownership without custodianship.   

///////////////////////// Our Escarpment: Our Home /////////////////////////

The Illawarra Escarpment forms a vital green corridor, which connects the southern end of the Royal National Park to Macquarie Pass National Park and beyond.

We have made our homes between the Mountains and the Sea and we love them both dearly. They are ours, our lungs, our beating heart. We ride, run and walk the length of the escarpment and stare back at it in wonder as we turn our surfboards after paddling out. They are key to our health, both mental and physical

As our city grows and the future demands new and sustainable ways of living and prospering, our leaders and our local population understand the economic potential of promoting activities that celebrate rather than denigrate our unique local environment. We can’t afford to run these assets down anymore

In anticipation of their mine expansion, Wollongong Coal have erected new signs that prohibit public access along the escarpment trails. Locals can no longer enjoy a simple run, ride or walk up to Brokers Nose without the threat of prosecution.

Native wildlife is abundant throughout the Escarpment. Echidna sightings are common. Wallabies can be heard and seen scattering into the bush as we pass. Black Cockatoos are plentiful. Lyrebirds, goannas and other reptiles are also frequently seen. There are even reports of koalas… No one appears to be looking after this rich and diverse flora and fauna, except the locals who use it. Lantana and other noxious weeds grow rampant beyond the Lower Escarpment Gate, amongst the dry, thick and matted undergrowth.

This is world-class bush land with world-class trails and outlooks. Imagine how much more joy, good health and potential for employment this unique space could bring if we could freely celebrate the things we’ve learnt to love about it - the things it teaches us. Imagine if we learnt to share it with the world for what it was, now and into the future forever, rather than for what some foreign company can extract from its ground over five short years - and likely damage the area for perpetuity.

We call for this space, a space whose creeks flow into the ocean and into the catchment, a space that provides the water that we drink and in which we swim, to be returned to the community. We call to be allowed to play within it, to care for it, to celebrate its incalculable and sustainable natural wealth without anyone else extracting or undermining its real and enduring value.

///////////////////////// Protect our Escarpment /////////////////////////

We call on the Commissioners to carefully consider the environmental, economic and social impacts of the proposed coal mine expansion.

Commissioners, please listen to the local community. We do not want an expanded coal mine. The environmental risks are too great, the economic value is highly doubtful, and the community will lose access to unique world-class bushland and trails, which have huge potential to promote both the physical and mental health of local community members .

Dear Commissioners, please hear us:

We the undersigned, the mountain biker riders, trail runners, walkers and naturists of the Illawarra (and anyone else who lives here or cares), strongly believe there should be no expansion to Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale operations. The mine facility should be remediated and its heritage celebrated. The bush should be remediated and ‘returned’ to public use. We want access to our Escarpment. We want the right to look after it, to care for it and celebrate it.

Reject the coal mine expansion proposal to enable us to keep enjoying and caring for this magical natural environment.

On behalf of the Illawarra Escarpment and its communities,

Tim, Mat, Julie, Bruce & Sarah (Seacliff Coasters trail runners)

 

Further information:

Protect Our Water Alliance: Coal would be trucked from Russell Vale along the Northern Distributor to Port Kembla Coal Terminal with up to 32 truck movements per hour.

Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining: Mining under our water catchment? Illawarra Residents say NO to Wollongong Coal’s expansion project

Shareholders left frustrated as mining company in more than $1b debt delists from ASX (ABC News, 19 August 2020)

Wollongong Coal claims $215m rehab bill - after a loss of $379 million (Illawarra Mercury, 12 September 2019)

Russell Vale risk: $202 million rehabilitation shortfall exposes NSW taxpayers (Lock the Gate Alliance, 9 December 2019)

IPC urged to reject Russell Vale following Wollongong Coal project referral (Lock the Gate Alliance, 6 August 2020)

Wollongong Coal expansion 'totally stranded' by planning report, mining analyst says (ABC News, 7 April 2016)