The controversial Sutton Forest mining project has been stalled.

The NSW director of environmental sustainability has ruled that Hume Coal will be required to undertake an environment impact study for its controversial Sutton Forest mining application as it was “likely to significantly affect the environment”.

The decision, made yesterday under delegation from the Minister for Resources and Energy (DRE) Anthony Roberts, will stall, and potentially derail, the South Korean company mining plans for the scenic South Highlands locality.

The decision follow research by Southern Highlands Coal Action Group (SHCAG) which suggested the groundwater level in the area of the mine could fall by up to 120 metres if the project went ahead.

The government decision is the first time there has been any official recognition of the concerns of the local resident activists who have included actor Nicole Kidman and singer Keith Urban.

The South Korean-backed Hume Coal mining company emerged in 2011 as the $8 million buyer of a beef cattle farm virtually on the doorstep of Nicole Kidman’s peaceful Sutton Forest retreat, Bunya Hill.

The celebrity couple hung a protest placard on the gates of their $6.5 million Southern Highlands retreat that condemned coal mining in 2012.

Kidman was among 424 land owners in the 115-square-kilometre exploration area who were advised in 2011 that 120 test exploration holes would be drilled to check on the size of the coal offerings.

Three years on the latest proposed drilling of up to 90 coal exploration boreholes has been determined as “likely to have a significant impact on the environment,” the departmental determination ruled yesterday. 

“DRE is generally concerned that the intensity of the proposed exploration drilling may lead to a significant impact or cumulative impact on the Sutton Forest community.”

The report noted the Office of Agricultural Sustainability & Food Security (OASFS) assessed the activity as a medium risk to agriculture due to the amount of drilling across a broad agricultural landscape with sensitive receptors. 

OASFS also identified further agricultural issues of concern as there was little detail on the remediation for any loss of water resources for agriculture. 

Influential 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones said today it was important to “stop this mob of vandals in their tracks”.

“Minister Roberts …he’s not without some guts,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Kate Ausburn/Flickr/Creative Commons.

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