THE coal exploration lease covering much of the Southern Highlands has been renewed by the state government for a further three years.
The lease, A349, operated by Hume Coal (a joint operation between Cockatoo Coal and Korean steelmaker Posco), expired about one year ago and has since been reviewed by the Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services.
Project Manager, Tim Rheinberger, said the renewal marked an important milestone in the project's development.
"With the renewal of the lease we will continue to explore within the lease area and build on the existing exploration information we have to date, which includes more than 80 bore holes completed by Hume Coal since 2011," he said.
"Our ongoing exploration and environmental studies over the next two years will help determine the overall economic and environmental viability of a mine."
A spokesperson from the Department of Resources and Energy said the lease was renewed subject to the stringent new controls implemented under the NSW Government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy.
"To address community concerns regarding protection of water resources, strict new conditions including groundwater monitoring and modelling have been imposed on the licence," she said.
"Renewal of an exploration licence in no way moves the title holder any closer to receiving mining approval, and certain site works and exploration activities require further government approvals before they can occur."
For several years, the company has been locked in a battle of wills with Southern Highlands Coal Action Group (SHCAG), made up of landowners and people concerned about the impact another coal mine would have in the Highlands.
SHCAG convenor Peter Martin said landowners being targeted by the company for land access, we "distressed" including those on Carters Lane, which has been blockaded by SHCAG members for about six months.
The decision in the court case to gain access to Carters Lane has not yet been handed down.
He also said the company could find it difficult to get a mine established because of proposed legislation ensuring that large coal mine developments which have a significant impact on a water resource must be assessed by the Federal Government and the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.
Mr Rheinberger said the remaining properties it had identified for access should provide enough data to determine the feasibility of the project.
"In addition to land access agreements for exploration, Hume Coal will also continue to seek land access from landholders both within and outside the lease for the purpose of water and environmental monitoring only," he said.
He said the company recognised the importance placed on groundwater by the community and had already put in place a water monitoring and modelling program.
"We expect this will exceed the new renewal requirements and fully comply with the (state) government's aquifer interference policy," he said.
"The only way to provide definitive answers about the future of the Project to the community is to finalise our exploration and gather detailed information about the coal resource and environmental conditions in the region. We hope to be in a position to provide this certainty during the next renewal period and we will continue our pro-active community engagement program to keep the community informed of the Project's key milestones and developments."
He said Hume Coal was committed to supporting the local economy by using local contractors, being a member of local business chambers and through community grant initiatives.