Dartbrook project is it ‘unravelling’?

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The first many people knew about the fact Australian Pacific Coal were placing nearly a half of their Dartbrook landholdings on the market was when they saw a for sale sign at Aberdeen on the weekend.

Eight properties that include two large scale dairies are listed with Meares and Associates real estate agents for sale by tender that closes on October 29. Properties listed include Goroka Dairy, Kayuga Homestead Farm and Ladino Park with the latter two having significant water allocations from the Hunter River.

Goroka Dairy was operated by the Smith family for 20 years with the company reporting in a newsletter on their website they installed a modern rotary dairy there in 2017.

This latest twist in the Dartbrook story comes as the community has been given until this Friday, September 11 to make submissions on the proposed Dartbrook Modification project that aims to reopen the Dartbrook underground mine that underlays a portion of the land now for sale.

Questions are being asked as to the viability of the Dartbrook project given this sale process and speculation is rife that one of the major partners in the project wishes to quit their interest in company.

With price exceptions well above $20 million for all the properties now listed it could be asked if the original investors hope to recoup their initial outlay from this tender process?

Australian Pacific Coal (AQC) purchased the property in 2016 from Anglo American, who had placed their Dartbrook underground mine, located on the site, in care and maintenance in 2006 .

Two years later AQC lodged a development application to reopen the mine and use bord and pillar methods to extract six million tonnes of coal a year until 2027.

However, the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) determination of the project in August 2019 refused to extend the life of the mine for further five years until 2027 as requested by AQC due to questions concerning the economic viability of the project.

In November last year AQC lodged an appeal against the IPC decision in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

An on site meeting between the mine’s proponent AQC Darbrook Management Pty Ltd and the IPC was held in July

As part of the Land and Environment Court’s conciliation conference the applicant has provided a Response to Contentions to the Commission.

The community now has until Friday to response to the contentions prepared by Hansen Bailey. The main change being proposed by AQC to their original application is the use of the Hunter Tunnel rather than moving the coal by truck, the handling and processing of the coal using existing infrastructure and the proponent not mining the Piercefield Seam to reduce subsidence and groundwater impacts.

Muswellbrook based agent for the properties John Flood said he had received a number of inquiries from large scale dairy farmers seeking top quality land and water sources which the dairy farms both offered.

“This land is so good you could plant a toothpick in it and get a strainer post in return,” he said.

“Finding land of this quality with water is rare.”

Upper Hunter Shire, deputy mayor, Kiwa Fisher who is working on a submission to the IPC strongly opposing the Dartbrook Modification Project, said the sudden sale of the land was bizarre.

“If you look a the quarterly financial statement released to the Australian Stock Exchange in July one would doubt if they could afford to reopen the mine and meet all the financial commitments that involves,” he said.

“Also having been on the properties the Kayuga Homestead would be located just over 200 metres from the mining opening. Who would want to buy that or other the other properties subject to noise and other impacts from the mine should it be allowed reopen.”

Comment has been sough from AQC.

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