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Coal mining proposal splits political colleagues

Troy Buswell says the future of the region is as a tourism and agriculture centre, not mining. (AAP: Warwick Stanley)The fight against coal mining in WA’s South West has taken a political turn.New South Wales-based company LD Operations wants to mine coal at Osmington, 15 kilometres from the Margaret River townsite.It’s an area surrounded by vineyards, farmland and the Margaret river itself.Residents are up in arms over the proposal and now their local member Troy Buswell is taking on the Premier to ensure Margaret River is protected from one of the world’s dirtiest industries.Mr Buswell says nothing good can come from introducing coal mining to the region."It doesn’t stack up on any grounds."Really, the economic future of the capes region isn’t as a coal mining centre, it’s as a tourism and agricultural centre and I think that needs to be pretty clearly understood by the proponents. "For decades Margaret River has developed a certain reputation and that reputation is not consistent with a coal mine."But the Premier Colin Barnett says while he doesn’t support the proposal, the Government has no right to stand in the way of the proponents."Troy Buswell as the local member has come out very strongly against the mine, good on him, that’s his job as a local member of parliament."Most local members, even if they’re high profile of ministers at a time, will get issues that are at odds."The State Government is not supporting this mining project. We’re not out there supporting it but we are permitting them to try to pursue their legal entitlements."Now whether they succeed and get approval is a question we’ll base on the science." Mr Buswell says the Government should ban coal mining between Busselton and Augusta.His stance is one supported by many locals, several of them who are well known.Chef Ian Parmenter has joined the fight as has winemaker Vanya Cullen and iron ore heir Michael Wright who owns Margaret River-based Voyager Estate.Mr Wright has put in a submission to the State Government calling for Margaret River to be made a protected area that would see coal mining banned."There is the pollution factor, I’ve never known a clean mine yet."Sandmining might be the cleanest as illustrated in Capel but they still have smoke stack pollution, you’ve got slag, you’ve certainly got ground water contamination."Mr Wright says heavy truck traffic could deter visitors and he fears there will be more mines in the area if one proceeds.

Mr Buswell says he’s struggling to get a full picture as to how the mine would impact upon Margaret River environmentally, socially and economically."I met with representatives of the proponent a couple of weeks ago."They provided us with an overview of their plans for the coal mine and I’d have to say as many unanswered questions came out of that meeting as questions were answered. "This is a foray by the proponents to understand public opinion which is now obvious, and to understand the nature of the approvals process. "I think the clear message from the local community is if you’re going to dip your toe in the water, the water is boiling and you’re going to get burnt so perhaps best not to go through with that procedure."LD Operations is yet to speak publically about its Vasse Coal project but it recently launched a website so residents could access information about the project and track its progress.In a statement, the company says the surface footprint of the conceptual operation is extremely small; with 3D modelling, visual amenity and noise studies underway to quantify the impacts.It says it respects the rights of people in the community to voice their concerns and opposition to the project but says it only seeks to undertake feasibility and environmental studies to determine the viability of the project and go through the structured approval process.Those against the mine say it needs to be stopped in its tracks.The Augusta-Margaret River Shire President has so far been the only public figure to express any sort of support for the project. Back in July Ray Colyer said the mine would bring economic benefits to the region and provide jobs to locals.Since then he’s done a back flip, writing to the Premier to voice the council’s opposition to the mine."If we have concerns in regards to these areas then we have to have valid reasons as to why we consider this Vasse Coal mine too risky."There is certainly information in regards to the mine’s operations, the amount of jobs that would be created by the mine, the economic stimulus for the region, that’s the detail that we don’t know yet."Further opposition to the proposal is coming from afar.Award winning author Sharyn Munro has been researching the effect coal mining has had on the Hunter valley in New South Wales and has recently turned her attention to the South West.She headed to Margaret River recently to collect more stories for her book and says she was confronted with a lot of angst."I’ve driven thousands and thousands of kilometres through Queensland and New South Wales where the main coal frenzy is going on. I’ve seen the results from long wall mining like they’re proposing in Margaret River."The industry is going into places like beautiful fertile farm land and lots of areas where they never would have before, they’ve never contemplated it."Once one goes in, what I’m seeing in areas is that others follow, it’s like the unthinkable has been done, now we can all go for it.Whether the proponents get any further in their bid to mine coal at the site comes down to the Environmental Protection Authority.The Premier says that’ll be no easy feat."The proponents have the right to pursue this but the Government will assess it very carefully, first we would get the advice of the EPA."I would imagine they would take a very strict position on a mine in an area such as Margaret River with the grape industry around it."What I’m signalling is that LD Operations can expect a tougher environmental test to be applied because of the tourism industry, the agricultural industry and the general sensitivity of the area."

26 Sunday September 2010  8:11

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