By Tim Lamacraft
The New South Wales Government's mining gateway panel has granted a conditional certificate to a Bylong Valley application that did not meet the relevant criteria.
The gateway panel's role is to assess the potential impacts of gas and mining projects on agricultural and water resources prior to applicants lodging development applications.
It has been criticised for not being able to refuse projects deemed inappropriate, as it can only approve projects with or without conditions.
This week it issued a conditional certificate to Korean company Kepco which is proposing to develop the Bylong Valley's first coal mine.
The panel's report found the application met only one of 12 relevant criteria points.
It also found Kepco was non-compliant in its assessment of nearly 2,000 hectares of land which falls within the Upper Hunter's 'critical industry cluster' for horsebreeding.
Despite the findings, the panel has issued Kepco with a conditional certificate.
Kepco says the certificate is a positive development which allows the project to move on to the next stage.
New South Wales Farmers Association president Fiona Simson has been critical of the gateway panel's structure as it does not have the power to refuse projects deemed unsuitable.
She says the Kepco project is a perfect example.
"Right up front the panel states that the project has not satisfied its criteria, in fact only satisfies one out of 13 criteria, yet the gateway panel awards this project a gateway certificate," she said.
"And this project, to all intents and purposes, seems to have passed through the gateway process and on to the next stage of development."
Ms Simson is questioning why the panel approved the project, despite highlighting a range of concerns.
"That this particular project will have significant impacts on the surface area of the land through disturbance and subsidence, significant impacts on the highly productive groundwater systems there, significant impacts on the fragmentation of agricultural land use, yet they have been compelled to issue a certificate," she said.