Locals, Politicians Rally Against Silver Mine in Australian Outback

Locals, Politicians Rally Against Silver Mine in Australian Outback
A supplied image shows local residents meeting to discuss a proposed silver and lead mine, at Mudgee Showground in Mudgee, NSW, April 28, 2023. (AAP Image/Supplied the Office Of NSW MP Sue Higginson)

Hundreds of locals have rallied against a proposed silver and lead mine in central west New South Wales (NSW) as they consider whether to legally challenge the open-cut project’s approval.

Bowdens Silver Project, about 2 km outside the village of Lue, was given conditional approval earlier this month to operate until 2046.

About 200 locals rallied against the decision at the Mudgee Showground on April 27 night, hearing speeches from locals and NSW upper house Greens MP Sue Higginson as well as farm operators living near a gold mine in Orange.

“The large majority of the community is opposed to the project. They are the people on the ground that are going to have to suffer the consequences,” Lue sheep and cattle farmer Tom Combes told AAP.

“They are the ones that are going to get tested for lead. They’re going to be the ones worried about water supply, their general wellbeing.”

The open-cut mine is expected to extract two million tonnes of silver, lead and zinc ore a year, with the operator Bowdens Silver granted approval to run the project under conditions.

Those conditions will prevent or minimise adverse impacts created by the mine, including impacts to health and water raised by locals, the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) said in its determination.

Bowdens Silver had offered voluntary blood lead level testing to concerned locals and that would assist in addressing community concerns about contamination, the commission said.

Appealing the decision on merit wasn’t possible but the community, which considers the proposed conditions unworkable, is seeking advice on the potential for a judicial review.

“All the decisions were made by people that don’t live here, and then the system was created whereby if you don’t like it, well, that’s bad luck,” Combes said.

“We’re just investigating our legal rights.

“We’re going to take the political fight to this new government—they seem to be interested.”

The NSW government stood by the determination made by the commission, a spokeswoman for the Department of Planning and Environment told AAP.

“The government notes the IPC’s strict conditions, including limits on noise and dust, comprehensive environmental monitoring programs, and developing and implementing a range of management plans, including an air quality and greenhouse gas management plan.”

The project had received strong community support, and was approved after a comprehensive process involving independent experts, numerous government departments and public hearings, Managing Director of Bowdens Silver Anthony McClure said.

“The Bowdens Silver Project is an environmentally sensible project that has now received final development approvals,” McClure told AAP.

“In an environment where we will have a decline in coal mining, a major local employer, it is projects like Bowdens Silver that secures the long term employment and financial security for our local townships and surrounds.”

Greens MP Sue Higginson, who has a farm in the Northern Rivers, has called on Planning Minister Paul Scully to engage with the Lue community, saying the current system has not allowed them any path of appeal.

“This community says the alarm bells are ringing,” Higginson told AAP.

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