A passionate crowd and several speakers appealed to the Joint Regional Planning Panel on the proposal to build a quarry at Lookout Road, Herons Creek.
In qualifying their determination to give consent to the construction of the quarry, members of the JRPP commended the time, passion and effort key stakeholders, particularly the residents of Herons Creek, for their submissions.
Last September the JRPP met in Kendall to determine the quarry development application. The panel deferred determination until the applicant completed an assessment of alternative sites, conducted an updated noise impact statement and provided a social and economic assessment.
On Wednesday, February 15, the panel held a public determination meeting again.
After hearing from the speakers for and against the quarry application, panel chairman Garry West said the length of time it had taken to determine the application had created enough uncertainty for the community and the applicant, CTK Natural Resources. He said the panel would make their determine on the application that day.
Resident Helen McCready addressed the panel on the data collected to support the application.
“The rainfall data in the report has been taken from Telegraph Point as being relevant to the Bago State Forest at Herons Creek. That can’t be accurate, so that’s a concern,” she said.
“I’m also concerned about the construction of a water storage dam and the flow-on affect to Herons Creek. The report says the water in the creek is already downgraded, wouldn’t this make it worse?
“The air quality study was done with data taken from the Pacific Highway upgrade at Coffs Harbour, how is that relevant to Herons Creek?”
Martin Parish, one of the pastors at the Herons Creek Community Chapel, spoke on the effort put in by the residents to rebuild a sense of community in the town which was lacking in 2009 when the bypass of the Pacific Highway effectively cut the village in two.
“We are becoming a tourism destination with the work we have done on the heritage trail, people are exploring our community and there is now a sense of pride surrounding this,” Pastor Parish said.
“A number of our community members have been awarded for the work they have done towards this sense of spirit.
“The report into the quarry is flawed and offensive and doesn’t contain any integrity in relation to the impact this development will have on the community.”
Resident Mark Roche spoke to the panel on the findings of the noise impacts of the quarry.
“The assessment was carried out for stage one of the development, not the noisiest stage which will be stage 4,” Mr Roche said.
“It’s a flawed noise assessment the noise of concrete crushers has been left out.”
Mr Roche also spoke on the road rating of Bago Road. The rating of the road opens up the opportunity for commercial businesses to use the road. With an expected increase in the amount of trucks using the road during the construction and operations of the quarry that rating will be lost along with its commercial advantage.
Denise Foord addressed the panel on how the people of Herons Creek enjoy the peaceful bush environment of the area.
“That will be lost and the increased volume of traffic on the roads will be a fatality waiting to happen,” Mrs Foord said.
Alicia Bales, whose property is one of the closest to the proposed quarry site, said the impact on her family would be significant in terms of noise, dust and safety.
“There will be quarry dust on my roof. The roof is the catchment for my family’s drinking water,” Mrs Bales said.
“There is no social license for this activity. The development will come at a cost to the local community. It’s about profit over people.”
Speaking in support of the development was the accoustician who submitted the noise assessment. She said the assessment was done according to government standards and within the guidelines set out by the environmental policies.
“I believe the information is based on a technically robust and conservative methodology,” she said.
The applicant’s advice from a planning perspective of the quarry site stated that the state’s environmental planning policy allows for extractive industries to operate in state forests. The materials to be extracted from the site could be used for infrastructure as well as monument stone for masonry.
A spokesperson from the NSW Forestry Corporation also spoke in support of the quarry.
“Forestry runs as a business and the revenue we generate is invested back into forest maintenance, roads, campgrounds like Swans Crossing and bushfire control burns,” she said.
“We contribute back to the community in this way and during the recent fires in Pappinbarra Road at Beechwood we provided assistance to the NSW Rural Fire volunteers outside of State Forest boundaries.
“Bago State Forest is a working forest. The storage dam in this development will provide a water storage facility which will help in future firefighting operations.
“There is broad benefit to the quarry outside of this local region.”
Garry West said all matters of concern since the September 2016 determination meeting had been addressed within the addendum to the development application.
“Our job is to deal with the application here today,” said panel member Paul Drake addressing the audience at the meeting.
“In September the conditions were flawed, in the beginning they were not to my satisfaction, but they have now been answered to the best of current practice.”
Mr Drake said he had visited Herons Creek six times of his own volition to understand the community’s position.
“I’m very impressed by what is going on in that village and reviving the sense of community and I commend you for that,” he said to Martin Parish.
“Will the quarry hamper that progress?
“Some of the issues that have been spoken about and submitted are negligible, others are red herrings. The conditions as recommended will give some comfort, if not happiness, to the community.
“We can’t prevent any activity based on suspicions. There are safe guards in place.
“Noise is the most outstanding issue. The level of noise and the time of day it occurs could be accommodated by the residents.
“Blasting hours have been reviewed in response to submissions.
“Road safety was another point. Bago Road is an absolute disgrace due to a mixture of uses, that’s why I asked the council here today about funding allocation and upgrade works planned for the road in this financial year.
“Another issue was it’s close proximity to another quarry. There is nothing in the legislation which tells us how many quarries you can have and that is something that concerns me and should be taken up with the relevant body.
“We can only determine the application within the guidelines set and the policies in place. On balance, I can’t refuse the application.”
Panel member Pam Westing said she was also concerned about noise issues.
“With the additional information received we know there will be some people who will hear the quarry noise, but the question is what is acceptable.
“We don’t have any standards to work with within the guidelines to answer that.
“I’m comfortable that this application meets the current standards and so there are no grounds to refuse it.
“In terms of the visual impact of the quarry, there is one property that will be significantly affected.
“Impact on property values as a result of the quarry being built is also not a matter for us. We deal with actual impacts and the direct affects.
“As far as the proposal not having a social licence to go ahead, we deal with the regulatory side of the application. I acknowledge that is of concern to the community.”
Garry West said the proposal was not an easy matter to consider for the panel given the emotional energy of the community of Herons Creek, “and I respect that.”
“We have to look at this under Section 79c of the State Environmental Planning Policy.
“The questions surrounding the marketability and sale-ability of the product being extracted is not up to us to determine. That’s a risk for the applicant to take.
“I understand the concern about property values but that’s not something we can consider.
“The questions about the noise findings and how that modelling was done; it’s been done to the current standard of the 35 DBA contour. If it is proven to be incorrect and it’s reported to the EPA (Environment Protection Authority), the operator will have to modify their operations or be closed down.
“It’s the EPA that determines where noise readings come from, it’s not up to us to change that.
“The applicant’s social licence must be earned through their good operations. A social licence is an important tool and I recognise that.
“I find that the application is permissible.”
Panel member Stephen Gow thanked speakers, both for and against the proposal, for their heartfelt submissions.
“Noise was my principle concern and the computer modelling used is a common tool. The operator will have to demonstrate that they comply with the EPA standard when they’re operational.
“I encourage the applicant to maintain vigilance on this.”
Paul Drake encouraged residents of Herons Creek to understand that the consent and conditions of the quarry application are legally binding. Policing these conditions, he said, “is a big deal”.
“On the anniversary of the consent the applicant should demonstrate to the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and the community that they are complying with the conditions, and make that information public,” Mr Drake said.
“You [the community] are now part of the process in compliance.”
Resident Maureen Churnside said the battle to stop the quarry isn’t over yet.
“We will be looking at our options in the Land and Environment Court. Unfortunately it takes a lot of money to fight, so we will be looking at what we can do as a community.”