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Co-existence of Mining and World Heritage / Protected Areas

This statement sets out the rationale by which SCM has assessed its proposed Newnes Junction development in the context of an adjacent World Heritage Area, and by which it has justified the development specifically in accordance with the World Heritage Operational Guidelines (2005), and other relevant protocols.

1. Background

During the environmental design and assessment of its Kaolin mining and sand extraction proposal at Newnes Junction, SCM was conscious of its requirement to meet the most stringent requirements for mine design, operation and long term compatibility of its operation with the adjacent Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and encompassing national parks and wilderness declarations.

As a result of SCM's analysis, a number of issues were identified that resulted in SCM making changes to the mine design, final site rehabilitation, and other offsetting initiatives. These ensure the proposed development conforms with any criteria that its proximity to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA) might require satisfying.

2. Buffer Zone to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA)

There were some concerns that the close proximity of the proposed mine to the GBMWHA could constitute a threat to its integrity and represent a threatening process. In addition, it is claimed that the proximity of the mine would preclude the extension of the existing nomination.

Accordingly, SCM's assessment has taken the following into account:

1. The Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (Feb 2, 2005) provide for the following:
Clause 100: "For properties nominated under criteria (i) - (vi), boundaries should be drawn to include all those areas and attributes which are a direct tangible expression of the outstanding universal value of the property, as well as those areas which in the light of future research possibilities offer potential to contribute to and enhance such understanding."
The Australian and NSW Governments were satisfied that the nomination document represented a sufficient area to satisfy the requirement of Clause 100. The World Heritage Committee endorsed this.
Clause 103: "Wherever necessary for the proper conservation of the property, an adequate buffer zone should be provided."
Clause 104: "For the purposes of effective protection of the nominated property, a buffer zone is an area surrounding the nominated property which has complementary legal and/or customary restrictions placed on its use and development to give an added layer of protection to the property. This should include the immediate setting of the nominated property, important views and other areas or attributes that are functionally important as a support to the property and its protection. The area constituting the buffer zone should be determined in each case through appropriate mechanisms. Details on the size, characteristics and authorized uses of a buffer zone, as well as a map indicating the precise boundaries of the property and its buffer zone should be provided in the nomination."
Clause 105: "A clear explanation of how the buffer zone protects the property should also be provided."
Clause 106: "Where no buffer zone is proposed, the nomination should include a statement as to why a buffer zone is not required."
Clause 107: "Although buffer zones are not normally part of the nominated property, any modifications to the buffer zone subsequent to inscription of a property on the World Heritage List should be approved by the World Heritage Committee."
The relevant matters arising from clauses 103 to 107 are:
• Details of the buffer zones should be provided at the time of nomination.
• An explanation of how the buffer zones protects the values should be provided at time of nomination.
• Where no buffer zone is proposed reasons as the its absence must be provided at the time of nomination.
• Any modifications to the buffer zone approved in the final declaration need approval of the World Heritage Committee.
2. The nomination document for the GBMWHA prepared by the Australian and NSW Governments dealt with the matter of buffers in the following way:
"The identified values of the nomination are protected by two additional mechanisms: wilderness areas and adjoining protected areas. Over 500,000 hectares of the nominated area consists of wilderness within national parks, which protects these large areas of intact natural ecosystems from disturbance... Several protected areas (two national parks and five state recreation areas), outside but immediately adjoining the boundaries of the nomination, enhance its integrity..." (p64)
Nominating governments and the World Heritage Committee were satisfied that sufficient buffer areas were identified for the protection of the heritage values at the time of nomination. No reasons were presented in the nomination that inadequate buffers had been proposed.
This fulfills the requirements of the World Heritage Operational Guidelines (Clauses 103 - 107) as endorsed by the parties to the World Heritage Convention.
3. No applications have been made to the nominating governments or the World Heritage Committee (Clauses 180 - 191) regarding the operation of exiting or proposed sand extraction and/or mining developments representing an ascertained or potential threat to the GBMWHA.
4. During the nomination process for the GBMWHA, considerable attention was given to threats to the nominated values by development pressures from adjoining areas.
It is notable that the "Pressures and Responses" chapter of the official nomination (credited to K Muir, Colong Foundation for Wilderness) does not mention sand extraction as a threat despite the existence at the time (as at present) of two sand quarries. The only reference to mining refers to coal mining having potential impacts such as altered hydrology, heavy metal pollution from runoff, subsidence, and cliff collapse.
Notwithstanding these matters, the World Heritage Committee was satisfied that there were no "pressures" that would preclude the declaration of the GBMWHA.
The nomination document makes specific reference to the procedures to be followed in dealing with future proposed mining operations adjoining the GBMWHA. These include:
• The recommended method for dealing with proposed mining operations is outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the NPWS and the DMR. It specifically deals with resolving issues of potential damage to natural values from mining activities close to the nominated protected areas.
• That all future mining operations must be assessed through an EIS and should be subjected to community consultation before any approval is granted.
• That the environmental impact assessment process should include assessment of impact on the hydrology of streams and underground water tables, pollution of streams from mine runoff, and impact of mine subsidence.
The specific content of the "Pressures and Responses" chapter of the GBMWHA nomination makes it clear that the possibility of future mining proposals was contemplated at the time of nomination. Further, the nominating governments outlined a protocol for dealing with such proposals. In addition, the combined assessment under Commonwealth and State laws offers further protection and transparency of the decision making process. These procedures clearly contemplate future mining developments.
SCM is therefore confident that its proposal at Newnes Junction is consistent with the GBMWHA nomination protocol.