Frank and Lynn Ashman invested a great deal of money, time and effort to set up their beef cattle stud enterprise on 'Shannonbrook' and 'Landmore' properties near Acland in Queensland’s Darling Downs. But if New Hope is allowed to expand their mine, to sit just 5 km away from the Ashman’s property, the Ashmans say all that hard work will have been for nothing.
“The proposed mine expansion risks our water, and without water our farm is finished,” says Frank.
Frank, who is president of community group Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA), 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 also deeply worried about the future of his community.
Frank is one of many locals who object to the expansion, known as Stage 3, with OCAA one of more than 30 objectors to the expansion, who will appear in Queensland’s Land Court from 7 March 2016 (read more of their stories).
Key impacts they fear include the disturbance of over 1,361 (13.61km2) hectares of strategic cropping land ; potential drop in groundwater levels of up to 47 metres on the site and a 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 .
“Our enterprise is livestock, and that livestock requires water to survive. We are 99 per cent reliant on the groundwater from our bore for both our livelihoods and our business enterprise.
“I am extremely concerned that if the [water] modelling is incorrect, it will have severe impacts on our groundwater resources and business operations.”
But it’s not just the risk of water that has Frank worried about investing more time and money into his business.
“Not only am I afraid of the impact it will have on our business, but the inability to sell our property due to the loss in value is also of great concern.”
Frank and Lynn say they already experience plumes from blasting from Stage 2 at their property and they worry the expansion, which move the project 3 kilometres closer to the property, will make the impacts worse.
“When a breeze is present the effect of the dust spreads to the surrounding neighbourhood, depositing unwanted overburden,” he says.
“The noise from the mine is evident from our property and at times it can be quite annoying … and (we are) experiencing this audible low frequency sound 24 hours a day.”
Frank is saddened other local residents have also been impacted by Stage 2 of the mine and worries about the future of his community should the expansion go ahead.
“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.
“If Stage 3 goes ahead, there will be a general turn down on the productivity of businesses within the local community.
“People will not invest into something that is long-term, such as farming... people will not invest into farms due to the groundwater degradation.”
With an element of hope, he adds: “If Stage 3 does not proceed, then there may be an element of returned confidence in the district.”
The 1,361 hectare area of strategic cropping land is part of the famous Darling Downs region, which contributes to one quarter of Queensland’s agricultural production and according to the Queensland government has Australia’s largest deposit of rich agricultural soils . NAC says they will ‘rehabilitate’ the area into grazing land once the project finishes.
“Strategic cropping land is very valuable with nutrients, moisture holding capacity, yields relevant to planting and limited need for irrigation.
“The mine, however is simply suggesting to return the land they are using to grazing land only.
“There is a significant difference in the yield between the strategic cropping land and grazing land.”
“My grandfather was a coal miner and I believe there may be a place for coal mining, such as underground metallurgical coal mining, where it doesn’t impact on agricultural land or populated areas.
“However, I am deeply concerned about the impacts of this particular mine and its proposed expansion on prime agricultural land."
 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