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Landowners block POSCO subsidiary from accessing Australian coal properties

POSCO-backed Hume Coal Pty. Ltd. has been delivered a blow by theLand and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia, which ruled againstallowing the Australian explorer access to five properties within the area ofthe exploration license covering its Hume project.

The company said May 10 that it is disappointed by the decisionto block land access based on section 31 of the Mining Act 1992.

According to court documents, Hume Coal notified the fivelandowners of its plans to obtain an access arrangement relating to each oftheir properties.

A dispute arose between the company and the landowners overwhether access could be granted and exploration carried out on the parts oftheir properties that host or are close to various works or structures.

"Prior to commencing exploration in this region, HumeCoal was mindful of the setting in which we are operating, therefore much timeand design was invested into producing a drilling program, which had little tono impact on the current land use," project director Greig Duncan said.

The five landowners launched legal action to resolve thedispute, but the commissioner for mining dismissed the case.

They then launched an appeal that has been upheld by theLand and Environment Court and the commissioner's decision has been set aside.

The court noted that section 31 of the Mining Act preventsthe holder of an exploration license from exercising any of the rightsconferred by the license over land that hosts or is near to a house, garden orany other "significant improvement."

The commissioner for mining, however, initially ruled thatseveral structures on the various properties, including paddocks with improvedpastures, an equestrian cross-country event course and irrigation pipes undercattle laneways and elsewhere, were not significant improvements.

Under the appeal, the court ruled that the commissioner diderr on questions of law and "misconstrued and misdirected herself" asto the relevant provisions of the Mining Act, including section 31 and thedefinition of "significant improvement."

Hume Coal argued that it has drilled 139 boreholes since2011 and all drilling sites have been rehabilitated to their original conditionor converted to a groundwater monitoring asset.

Duncan said that the Land and Environment Court's rulingwill have "severe ramifications" for mining and exploration in NewSouth Wales and lead to "potentially sterilizing highly valued andessential resources."

"It is now up to the … state government to review theland access laws and regulations, so that the exploration industry can continueto progress opportunities, employment and the economy for the people of NewSouth Wales," he said.

Despite the ruling, Hume Coal plans to continue thedevelopment of its namesake project and is progressing with its environmentalimpact statement, which is slated for release later this year.