Meet locals battling with New Acland Coal's expansion in Queensland's Darling Downs and hear why they are trying so hard to stop it.
The town of Acland is located in Queensland’s Darling Downs, close to a major open-cut coal mine, New Acland Coal (NAC) owned by New Hope Group.
Acland, once a thriving town, has shrunk down to one stalwart permanent resident, Mr Glenn Beutel, known as ‘the last man standing’.
Now, amidst controversy, the company proposes to extend the existing mine (pictured, right), destroying and downgrading some of Australia’s richest agricultural cropping land, putting residents’ health at risk, and robbing this close-knit community of confidence in a viable farming future.
Many from the local and broader community oppose the expansion, which will see an increase in the annual production of coal from 5.2 to 7.5 million tonnes for 12 years to 2029.
Those working to take up the fight against the mine include farmers, graziers, veterinarians, and concerned townsfolk.
Key impacts they fear include the disturbance of over 1,361 hectares (13.61km2) of strategic cropping land ; potential drop in groundwater levels of up to 47 metres on the site and one metre or more across a 21 kilometre-wide area around the site; and the further degradation of air and noise quality in the area .
As a result, they are taking their fight to the Land Court of Queensland to seek a recommendation that New Acland Coal should not be allowed to expand the mine (read more about the case).
Here are some of their stories...
Noel Wieck has spent his life working on national award winning dairy farm 'Chelmonte', which has been in his family for almost a century.
Noel now lives on an adjoining property with his wife, Fay, while one of his two sons, Grant, wife Kylie and their five children have taken on the family home at Chelmonte (all pictured, above).
Noel is deeply concerned NAC's expansion might destroy both his farming business and their home, which he hoped to pass onto future generations of his family.
“The land impacted by the mine is the best agricultural land in the area… there will be a definite impact on future generations,” Noel said.
Frank and Lynn Ashman (pictured, above) invested a great deal of money, time and effort to set up their beef cattle stud enterprise on 'Shannonbrook' and 'Landmore' properties at Brymaroo.
If NAC is allowed to expand, the mine will move three kilometres closer to the Ashmans' property.
Frank, who is also president of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, says the uncertainties created by the bid to expand the mine have made him afraid to invest any more money into his business. He is deeply worried about the future of his community.
“The proposed mine expansion risks our water, and without water our farm is finished,” Frank says.
“I have witnessed impacts on the community, and in my experience there are a number of people who are clearly struggling with the impacts of the current mine and the proposed Stage 3 expansion.”
Max Scholefield moved to Coolabah South farm with wife Jane with plans to retire on it.
Max (pictured, above) is deeply concerned that the impacts from NAC’s proposed expansion will force him and even more farmers to leave the area.
“New Acland Coal have simply taken prime agricultural land that could have supported families for generations and destroyed it for very short term gain,” Max says.
“It is depressing that the mine is drawing good farmers away from an area that should never have been mined in the first place.
“We purchased the property with the intention of retiring on it, however the mine has disturbed this retirement plan due to the uncertainties of what impacts it will have on our business.
“We are terrified that we will live in a property that we cannot sell and are required to close all the windows (because of coal dust) and live in air-conditioning.”
The Queensland Environmental Defenders Office is representing community group Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) which, alongside 30 other community objectors, are opposing the state approvals of the mine in Court.
The 10-week court hearing, to start on 7 March, will allow those battling the mine to stand up for their community, tell their story and obtain justice.
The hearing will scrutinise whether the social, environmental and economic impacts on Queensland of expanding the mine are worth the claimed benefits of the 12-year coal project.
The Queensland Government must consider the Land Court’s recommendation when deciding whether to grant the two state approvals New Acland Coal needs for the project to begin.
 The Queensland State Government identifies strategic cropping land as “land that is, or is likely to be, highly suitable for cropping because of a combination of the land's soil, climate and landscape features”. Source: https://www.dnrm.qld.gov.au/land/accessing-using-land/strategic-cropping-land