A RAIL loop included in the plans for the proposed Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine could destroy a core koala habitat, and there may be no adequate area to relocate them due to a lack of suitable trees.
These were two of the concerns raised at Shenhua's latest Koala Technical Working Group meeting, which took place in June last year and recently had its minutes published.
Dr Valentina Mella from the University of Sydney is part of the group, and is worried about the impact the rail loop will have on a corridor of land called Court Lane.
She has carried out studies on Court Lane since 2015 and stated 25 koalas, including four breeding females, had been documented in that time, leading her to believe it should be classified as a core corridor and therefore not destroyed.
She questioned how different corridors' importance had been ranked, which was a query shared by Biolink's Dr Steve Phillips.
Despite believing the rail loop and supporting access road would be easy to save given work has not begun yet, Dr Mella has been advised there may be little that can be done to change their course given it has already gained development consent.
A Shenhua spokesperson has said the company adheres to strict environmental regulations, and has pushed forward with the project using the best information made available to them.
"Shenhua Watermark Coal has made a long-term commitment to establishing the Watermark Project, and has been diligent in ensuring we adhere to the rigorous planning and environmental approval processes, as set out by state and federal governments," they stated.
"The project has already received a State Development Consent which was approved by an independent planning panel.
"The mine has been approved under national environmental law subject to some of the strictest conditions in Australian history, which fully implemented the advice of third party scientific experts.
"We continue to work with relevant government agencies to meet the required technical approvals, including for items like the Koala Plan of Management."
However, this answer has not satisfied some groups, including the Lock the Gate Alliance (LTGA).
They believe this information must cause a rethink not only from the company, but from governing bodies.
LTGA NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said action must be taken immediately to ensure not a single koala is put at risk.
"Koalas in this part of NSW are suffering and their numbers declined significantly in part due to the recent severe drought," she stated.
"These breeding females may be this particular colony's last hope, Shenhua must not be allowed to bulldoze their habitat.
"Instead of allowing this project to delay indefinitely, the NSW Government should take this opportunity to put an end to it once and for all."
The calls to redesign the rail loop may have been less pronounced if there were not major concerns about where they could be relocated.
Koalas need to be moved to other tree plantations that are more than 20 years old, however the adjacent areas do not match that description.
The University of Sydney's Dr Mark Krockenberger, who also sits on the working group, said that in order to ensure a suitable and sustainable habitat, Shenhua had two options, either "plant trees 10 years ago or delay mining for 10 years".
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