Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Many hands work to restore a wild river covered in coal

On Sunday 6 December the Colong Foundation for Wilderness organised a working bee of volunteers from Sydney University Bushwalkers and other bush walking groups to remove coal fines from the Wollangambe River.  More than forty people who care about this beautiful river walked to where Centennial Coal has left coal fines in the River since a major tailings dam collapse at Clarence Colliery on 2 July this year.  Everyone was shocked by the impact of the spill on the World Heritage listed River.  The river is still coated in black coal fines for many kilometres.

They did not bring any technology: just rubber gloves, scoops made out of plastic milk bottles and bags to collect the coal fines.  After a few hours, many bags had been filled and distributed throughout the party for the long walk back up to the cars.

“The Environment Protection Authority must require Centennial Coal to clean up the River until restored to a pristine state.  Anything less for this World Heritage river is unacceptable” said Mr Keith Muir, director of the Colong Foundation

“The Wollangambe River in the Blue Mountains National Park is adored by thousands of walkers and canyoners.  The Environment Protection Authority must require the company to properly engineer the rebuild of the tailings dam at Clarence Colliery, not just quickly patch it up with bulldozers and pretend there is no problem,” he said.

For more than four months, Centennial’s contractors have been cleansing the River – scooping up the coal fines, placing it in bags that are then lifted out by helicopter.  This slow clean-up has meant that coal fines have moved way down the River – far from the original spill site.

The 2015/16 canyoning season is about to start.  The canyoners who enjoy the Wollangambe further downstream near Mt Wilson are worried that coal fines could reach that far. 

“They told us they wanted to help clean up the River, so we got on with it.  The resources mobilised by the Company have proved insufficient.  There is no point arguing for months about it,” Mr Muir said.

“The NSW Government should do more than ensure the Wollangambe River is cleaned up, they must ensure all tailings dams are properly engineered.  For example, there is no engineered wall proposed for the proposed waste heap at Centennial’s Airly mine, despite being upstream of the World Heritage Area in the Capertee Valley.  The planning system is failing to protect World Heritage, so there’s a Christmas job for their “to do list”, said Mr Muir.

For further Information: Keith Muir, (02) 9261 2400 (wk)