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Green light for new coal terminal at Port of Newcastle

World Coal,

The proposed fourth coal terminal at the Port of Newcastle in Australia has been recommended for approval, despite the softening coal market and amid strong objections from the local community.

The T4 coal export terminal will expand capacity at the world’s largest coal export port by another 70 million tpy. The cost of the terminal has been set at AUS$4.8 billion.

Port Waratah Coal Services will front the bill for construction of the port, which will generate 1500 construction jobs and 80 permanent positions.

In recommending the project was approvable, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) review for T4 acknowledged that world demand for coal has softened and that there is no immediate need for the new terminal until around 2023.

The PAC report states that contamination on the coal loader site at Kooragang Island should be cleaned up as soon as practicable.

It also recommends conditions on the cleaning of coal wagons leaving the site, but would not support calls for coal wagons to be covered, saying there was little or no evidence to suggest it would improve air quality in Newcastle.

Hundreds lodged submissions opposing the development, concerned about health impacts from increased coal dust and biodiversity impacts on nearby wetlands.

Some claimed the economic benefits of the T4 project had been overstated.

The PAC recommended a five-year approval period, rather than 10 years, and will also require that a biodiversity offset area at Tomago is successfully attracting migratory shorebirds prior to construction.

CEO at Port Waratah Coal Services, Hennie du Plooy, said although the T4 project is not needed immediately, it is vital to plan for future demand. "At the moment we know that the terminals in Newcastle can handle current demand from producers," he said.

"But even in the current environment, the coal chain in the Hunter Valley will achieve record levels once again this year, so it is quite probable that it will be required in the future,” du Plooy said.

The CEO said the approval process is not yet over, with the PAC review now due to go back to the planning department for further consideration.

"The department then has to provide and prepare a final assessment report and prepare a final set of conditions which they will then submit to the Minister for approval,” said du Plooy.

"The current practice is the Minister then refers that approval to another Planning Assessment Commission, which will be convened in due course,” du Plooy explained.

The PAC has come under fire for ignoring the hundreds of submissions calling for the fourth coal loader project to be rejected.

The PAC review states that noise and dust emissions can be adequately contained, but Newcastle Greens Councillor, Michael Osborne, said he was not satisfied the community's views have been heard.

"The major concerns from residents who live near the port have been ignored by the Planning Assessment Commission," Osborne said.

"They've dismissed them or made cursory comment,” he added. "They certainly haven't rejected the proposal, which should have happened."

Port Waratah Coal Services said it had a legal requirement to ensure sufficient terminal capacity to meet the long-term needs of Hunter Valley coal producers, under the Long Term Commercial Framework (LTCF), which came into effect on 1 January 2010.

The LTCF was authorised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and was overseen by the NSW Government to address capacity bottlenecks that have hindered the Hunter Valley coal chain over recent years.

The T4 project will involve the development of approximately 310 ha. of industrial zoned land, located west of the existing Kooragang Island operations. Coal stockyards, rail facilities and marine side infrastructure will be built, along with shiploading facilities. 

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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