A rock quarry approved by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) would not only have serious ramifications for residents of Brandy Hill and surrounds, but would also damage the image of Port Stephens as a tourist destination with the increase in truck movements and decimation of a koala habitat.
That was the view of some members of the Brandy Hill/Seaham Action Group following the IPC's decision last week to approve an extension of the Brandy Hill quarry extraction area by 55 hectares and to more than double its rock production from 700,000 tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes per annum.
And while road safety, noise and air pollution were also high on the list of objectors to the quarry's 30-year expansion, the quarry's supporters highlighted the value of jobs the ongoing operations would bring to the Port economy.
A spokesperson for quarry owner Hanson said that the company had been a long-term employer in the Hunter region with many staff living in the communities surrounding the quarry.
"This approval will result in 10 extra full-time jobs, and provides ongoing employment opportunities through further indirect roles including truck drivers, suppliers and other contractors. Hanson has also committed over $1.6 million for the construction of new bus bays and a shared pathway along Brandy Hill Drive. Hanson will also fund the ongoing maintenance of more than 13kms of local roads for the next 30 years."
Margarete Ritchie, from the action group, said that a number of residents would be pleased the Commissioners had listened to some of their concerns and acted on them, but the majority, particularly those living closest to the quarry, would feel gutted that the IPC had not taken a tough stand on the destruction of 52 hectares of core koala breeding habitat.
"Governments have stated that unless habitat is protected koalas will be extinct by 2050. Yet, they have such poor laws that this quarry is deemed more significant than our most prized and internationally recognised icon," Mrs Ritchie said.
This position was backed by Port Stephens MP and Opposition spokesperson for the environment Kate Washington, who described the expansion approval as "an indictment on the Berejiklian Government and its woefully inadequate environmental laws".
"Despite the summer bushfires and the recent koala inquiry findings, the government fast-tracked this project for approval and now 52 hectares of koala habitat will be bulldozed," she said.
"Koalas in Port Stephens are already endangered, so this decision is reckless and irresponsible. As far as they're concerned, it's business as usual when it comes to land clearing, and a national icon will be wiped out as a result.
"In its 'statement of reasons for decision' the IPC issued a clear and damning rebuke of the government's inadequate policies and protections for koalas and their habitat."
Mrs Rtichie said that the residents had achieved some small wins.
"All equipment must be enclosed to mitigate noise, dust and resulting pollution. This must be done before they can increase tonnage beyond 700,000 tonnes per year. More stringent monitoring of noise and dust has also been mandated," she said.
"Also, Hanson cannot proceed with expansion until a pathway and bus pull-off bays are constructed along Brandy Hill Drive. However, the residents along Seaham Road have been forgotten with this issue. They, too, will be confronted with up to 600 trucks per day at peak and deserve to have the safety of a pathway and properly constructed bus stops for their safety."
Mrs Rtichie said that residents were thankful the IPC had listened to concerns and restricted haulage and most quarrying activities from 6am to 6pm, six days a week.
"This is the same as the 1983 consent that Hanson refused to abide by. Another outstanding issue that should raise alarm bells is the standard of the haulage route along Brandy Hill Drive, Seaham and Clarence Town roads. Our investigations show they no longer meet the latest AustRoads standards for the safe operation of heavy vehicles, yet Port Stephens Council deems them suitable."
A council spokesperson said that the council used the current standards and guidelines when maintaining and upgrading its road network.
"In addition, council is involved in the relevant industry bodies that set standards and guidelines."
There are also fears that the 600 extra truck movements a day would place enormous pressure of local roads and pose a serious safety threat to those residents living on the truck route in Seaham Road, Adelaide Street and Richardson Road at Raymond Terrace.
Seaham Road residents say they have lobbied the council to have the speed limits drastically reduced, but "to date the council has done nothing to address our speed issues", said resident Donna Lidbury.
The expansion proposal was handed to the IPC in May for determination after the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment had finalised its assessment of the application and had received 169 objections from members of the public and special interest groups.
Some of these objectors expressed concerns that visitors would be deterred from coming to Port Stephens by the clearing of valuable koala habitat and the extra truck movements.
Commissioners Peter Duncan (panel chair), Steve O'Connor and Annelise Tuor met with the applicant, department and Port Stephens Council and visited the project site.
The commission also hosted a successful electronic public meeting to listen to the community's concerns.
Residents expressed concerns about potential impacts on road safety from an increase in heavy vehicle movements, loss of local amenity and lifestyle impacts from excessive noise, dust and vibration.
The situation at a glance
Hanson sought approval to expand operations at its Brandy Hill Quarry, which produces construction material for major infrastructure projects across NSW.
As part of its state development application, Hanson sought to:
- Extend the extraction area by approximately 55 hectares (ha), from 19.5 ha to 74.5 ha
- Increase production from 700,000 tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes per annum
- Extend product transport and operating hours into the evening and nighttime periods
- Construct and operate a concrete batching and recycling facility, and
- Import solid concrete waste for reprocessing and beneficial reuse.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment finalised its assessment of Hanson's DA in May 2020.
The DA went to the Independent Planning Commission for determination after the Department of Planning received 169 objections from members of the public and special interest groups.
Representatives from the commission met with the applicant, department and Maitland and Port Stephens Councils to discuss the proposed quarry expansion. They also visited the project site and surrounding areas.
The commission hosted an electronic public meeting to listen to the community's concerns.
Residents who participated in the public meeting via telephone and video conferencing expressed concerns about potential impacts associated with a significant increase in activity at the quarry, including impacts on road safety from an increase in heavy vehicle movements, loss of local amenity and lifestyle impacts from excessive noise, dust and vibration.
After considering the evidence, on July 16 the commission determined to approve the quarry expansion.
In addition to the restrictions recommended by the department, the commission found that:
- The increase in heavy vehicle traffic associated with the quarry expansion poses a safety risk on Brandy Hill Drive. In order to mitigate this impact, the commission has imposed a condition that requires certain road infrastructure works, namely six bus bays and a shared pathway, to be constructed in Brandy Hill Drive prior to any increase in production from the quarry and;
- Truck movements in the early morning (prior to 6am) would unreasonably impact the well-being of residents living along the haulage routes. On this basis, the commission has imposed a condition to further restrict trucks from entering the site prior to 6am and that the applicant be required to implement management measures to prevent trucks travelling on the haulage routes before this time.