NOISE: Peter and Julie Brown [on right] with Peter’s mother June near Mangoola mine with the mines Coal Handling Preparation Plant in the distant background. Picture Credit: Peter Stoop
The catch 22 of mine noise
ONE of the world’s largest mining companies has barred a Muswellbrook couple from making verbal complaints to its mine after they called a community manager a ‘‘bastard’’, and 10 months later an ‘‘idiot’’.
Glencore Xstrata’s Mangoola mine placed Peter and Julie Brown on a ‘‘complaints only in writing’’ basis in July last year after advising them the company had a duty of care to ensure staff were ‘‘not subjected to any form of abuse or name calling’’.
This followed Mrs Brown calling the male community manager a ‘‘bastard’’ during a phone call in September 2013, and Mr Brown calling the manager an ‘‘idiot’’ in a phone call in July last year, before hanging up.
The Mangoola letter came after three years of complaints from the Browns about low frequency noise from Mangoola’s coal processing plant, and increasingly desperate calls to the mine, the Department of Planning and the Environment Protection Authority to do something about it.
It also came after reports found significant low frequency noise emissions from the plant, high readings at the Brown house that were rejected because of weather conditions, and advice from Mangoola in December 2013 that engineering controls to reduce the low frequency noise ‘‘were significant in cost’’ and ‘‘have a low probability of success’’.
‘‘They’ve decided we’re serial complainers and this is their way of dealing with us, but this is the rest of our lives we’re talking about,’’ said Mr Brown, who works at Drayton mine.
‘‘People shouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail with mining companies to get some sort of justice out of them.
‘‘And they shouldn’t have to fight government departments at the same time.’’
Mangoola, the former Anvil Hill mine, was approved in June 2007 after extensive public protests, bought by Xstrata four months later, and modified twice by 2009 when Xstrata applied to relocate mine infrastructure, including the coal processing plant, 10 metres higher and one kilometre closer to the Brown house on Roxburgh Road.
The modification was approved by Department of Planning executive director Chris Wilson in November 2009 under delegated authority from the then planning minister Kristina Keneally, and without going on public exhibition. The department accepted an Xstrata noise assessment that ‘‘predicted impacts would be negligible’’.
By May 2011 the Browns, and Mr Brown’s mother June who has lived about 250metres away for more than 30 years, were complaining about noise from the mine infrastructure area which is more than three kilometres from their homes.
By early October Mangoola was paying for two rooms at a Denman hotel for the Browns, which continued until December 29 because low frequency noise made sleeping at the two houses unbearable and impossible, Julie Brown said.
The mine paid for brickwork and insulation beneath Julie and Peter Brown’s house as noise mitigation, but it changed nothing, Mr Brown said.
Mrs Brown was forced to live at her daughter’s house in Muswellbrook, Mr Brown slept some nights in his car, and they eventually bought a house in Muswellbrook where they now live, while visiting their Roxburgh Road house.
Noise reports commissioned by the mine have confirmed significant low frequency noise from the coal processing plant, have recorded measurements higher than noise criteria at Mr and Mrs Brown’s home, have rejected many of those measurements because of weather conditions, or determined that because the Brown houses could be subject to noise from other mines Mangoola had not exceeded its licence conditions.
Victorian acoustic consultant Les Huson, who assessed the reports for the Browns, said the reports had ‘‘identified problems that suggested non-compliance’’ with Mangoola’s licence conditions for noise, but had ‘‘de-emphasised the issue’’ by a number of means.
Mangoola did not respond to questions.
The Environment Protection Authority said it was considering ‘‘further targeted noise monitoring’’ after it completes a review of previous reports, including five from Mangoola and Mr Huson’s review of those reports.
The authority said it took the Browns’ complaints very seriously, and rejected any suggestion of the Browns as serial complainers.