THE Wallarah 2 coal project has been granted two mining leases by the NSW government, bringing the controversial underground mine a step closer to reality.
The decision has been applauded by the mine owner, the minerals council and the mining union, but criticised by environmental group Lock the Gate.
The government said yesterday that the state would receive $830 million in royalties over 28 years. Approval conditions would "prevent and minimise environmental impacts".
Wallarah project manager Kenny Barry said that if things went smoothly, the mine could be ready to go underground in 2021 or early 2022.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said the granting of the leases was a major disappointment.
"NSW will rue the day that it allows an underground coalmine under the water catchment of one of the most important growth areas in the state," Ms Woods said.
Both sides agreed that the granting of the licences was a consequence of an approval for the project granted in January last year by the planning assessment commission, which was replaced two months later in March 2018 by the Independent Planning Commission.
Supporters believe the final granting of the leases was held up by the March state election, while opponents have been fighting the mine in the courts.
A lobby group opposed to the mine, the Australian Coal Alliance, had opposed the validity of the 2018 approval in December last year, and their case was dismissed by the NSW Land and Environment Court on March 22 this year, the day before the election.
The Wallarah 2 mine has been a quarter of a century in the planning, with the original exploration licences for the Wyong coal reserves issued by the state government in 1995.
BHP was initially a major shareholder in the original joint venture that was looking at the area, but it sold out to the Korean government backed Kores, which is now the major shareholder with 82.25 per cent of the modern project.
Mr Barry said the project had been through an "exhaustive and bruising" approvals process, and the joint venture partners were "very happy" with the granting of the two leases.
He said that final investment decisions were for the shareholders to make, but the companies involved had always been "very supportive" of the project.
CFMMEU mining and energy division northern president Peter Jordan said the union welcomed the mine, which has approval to extract 5 million tonnes of coal a year, bound for export.
"Our industry needs fair rules that are consistently applied to give operators, investors and workers some certainty," Mr Jordan said.
"The community has been waiting for a long time for the jobs that will flow from this project. As with any project, our focus will be on representing workers and making sure the project delivers permanent, secure jobs."
Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said Wallarah 2 had been "a political football at successive state elections" but all of that was now "in the past".
"This has been one of the most scrutinised mining projects in NSW history, subjected to repeated assessment over a ridiculous 16-year period, including by independent scientific experts, the Department of Planning, and the Independent Planning Commission, before receiving a positive determination last year," Mr Galilee said, commending the government for granting the lease.
The Newcastle Herald was unable to obtain comment on Friday from Australian Coal Alliance spokesperson Alan Hayes.