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Ambitious sand project to address public concerns

A NSW government agency has recommended that the Sutton Forest Quarry Project application be referred to the Federal Department of Environment and Energy.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) NSW has expressed concerns over impacts on the neighbouring biodiversity corridor, particularly around koala movements.

“Given the potential impacts on threatened species affecting Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES), OEH considers that the project should be referred to the Commonwealth,” NSW Resources Assessments director Howard Reed wrote in a letter to RW Corkery, which is consulting for the proponent.

As the application has drawn more than 25 public objections, the NSW Planning Department’s assessment report and recommendations have been sent to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) for final consideration.

The department received nine submissions from government agencies, including the OEH, 414 submissions from the community and 36 submissions from special interest groups.

Landholder’s consent

Reed has requested RW Corkery’s senior environmental consultant Paul Ryall to prepare and submit a Response to Submissions (RTS) addressing all issues raised in the public submissions.

The issue about the landowners’ consent is an ongoing matter that requires effective resolution, preferably prior to the submission of the RTS, the letter states.

“In the event that landowners’ consent is not clearly and unequivocally obtained, the department may elect to not further assess the application,” the letter reads.

“With regard to the landowner consent, generally the assessment of a development application may proceed without landowner consent. However, determination of the development application requires landowner consent,” Ryall clarified in a response to questions from Quarry.

On 31 July, senior NSW Department of Planning and Environment staff and Sutton Forest Quarries (SFQ) representatives joined more than 300 people at a community meeting about the proposed Sutton Forest Quarry to hear their views and concerns.

Reed said the meeting provided an opportunity for locals to ask questions, have their say, and gain a better understanding of how this proposal is being assessed.

“The community’s feedback and the applicant’s response to issues raised will be taken into consideration when we develop our recommendations,” he said in a media release.

“The applicant is now required to respond to the issues raised by the community.”

The event was hosted at the Mittagong RSL Club to provide an opportunity for the community to express its views about the proposed modification, in addition to the formal submission process, which finished on 21 June.

The main issues included amenity impacts associated with the proposed operations such as increased noise levels, visual impacts, reduced air quality, groundwater pollution, increased traffic movements and reduction in the value of neighbouring properties.

“The DPE has advised that they intend to keep accepting submissions, despite the cessation of the public exhibition period. Considering this, the intent is to finalise the RTS in the first quarter of 2019,” Ryall said. He added, however, that “this timing will be dependent on the final number (and nature) of all submissions received”.

Once the RTS has been submitted, the department will complete its assessment, taking into account the EIS, all community submissions, comments from other state agencies and local government, the RTS and any other information provided.

Proposed site

SFQ is seeking to open a sandstone quarry and processing plant, just off the Hume Highway. The extraction, processing and stockpiling areas will be on a site spanning 67ha.

The quarry is expected to have an output of one million tonnes per annum (tpa) of friable sandstone reserve that will yield approximately 860,000 tpa of sand products for sale over 45 years.

A total of 21 million tonnes of light quality sand products will be produced in the first 30 years, and eight million tonnes in the following 15 years.

According to the executive summary of the proponent’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the proposed project is set to “fill the void” after the closure of the Penrith Lakes Quarry in recent years, and the imminent closure of the Kurnell Peninsula sand mine.

SFQ’s environmental planning manager Spencer Buchanan said company representatives attended the community meeting on 31 July to hear first-hand community concerns.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the time taken by the public to make submissions and attend the meeting and we are committed to addressing all the issues raised by the public,” Buchanan said in a statement.

The company has launched a detailed study of all the submissions made by the public to address concerns raised, he said.

SFQ is a joint venture between Hi-Quality Group and the Tulla Resources Group and has also announced new measures designed to minimise disruption to nearby residents and traffic flow and protect groundwater.

Amongst these measures, the need for blasting has been reconsidered and assessed, and it has been decided that blasting will not take place to extract sand.

SFQ is also undertaking investigations into the ground water concerns raised. As part of those investigations, operations will be reviewed to ensure that they do not impact underground water supplies.

The company is also consulting with NSW Roads and Maritime Services officers on traffic concerns and has instructed its engineering consultants to review access arrangements and consider options to reduce perceived conflicts with Hume Highway traffic.

SFQ has also agreed that its extraction operations would not occur on major holy days celebrated at the nearby Our Lady of Mercy Shrine.

Buchanan said SFQ has commissioned consultants to complete the social impact evaluation and prepare a comprehensive RTS that will include additional investigations, assessments and reporting.

“Over the next six months, we will address the issues raised and propose a range of initiatives and potentially some changes to the project aimed at furthering the development’s ecological, economic and social sustainability,” he said.

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