Expert Reveals: Rocla’s Calga Sand Mine Will Have Disastrous Effect on Environment, Economy & Community

calga sand mine - disastrous effects

27th January 2014

By Ian Sutton

Special Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Rocla’s Calga sand mining proposal has disastrous implications for the environment, economy and community.

Of all the issues on the New South Wales Central Coast, there is none more pressing than our water crisis. Our past land management and urban development practices have severely impacted on the lands capacity to absorb and then store water in the landscape. Many of our springs and streams have already dried up, impacting severely on wetland and wet forest communities.

It was recorded by the region’s first European settlers that the Central Coast was comprised of around 60% wet plant communities. Today we have less than 1%.

Once moisture is lost from the top soil through the lowering of the ground water table, there begins a transition in plant communities and a loss of biodiversity of both flora and fauna. Rainforests, wet forests and wetlands will disappear while dry forests, woodlands and heath scrub will expand their territories.

Rocla’s proposed mine site at Calga contains over thirty endangered species of both flora and fauna.

The loss of ground water tables and the drying up of the landscape has far reaching effects, not only on the environment but also on the community and economy.

  • As dry plants spread and dominate, catastrophic bush fire condition become more regular and fire will rampage out of control.
  • As top soils dry out farmlands will experience severe losses in fertility and productivity.
  • The disappearance of wet plant community and the drying up of wetlands, streams and waterfalls will impact dramatically on eco and cultural tourism.
  • Water shortages leading to water restrictions will affect both business and community.

A reliable, cheap and long-term source of water is a fundamental requirement for developing and maintaining all industries.

The development of this massive expansion of Rocla’s Calga sand mine will have huge impacts on the Central Coast’s already severely degraded water systems. Their source of sand is in fact our high sandstone aquifers that exist as part of the rock formations that have formed our ridges and high country.

These layers of rock are soft and porous, allowing surface water to infiltrate easily and remain stored within the high ground of the landscape. Unfortunately these same properties also makes Aquifer rock a target for sand mining as this type of stone is easily quarried and crushed to produce good quality sand.

When rain falls on the Plateau, much of the water infiltrates the sandstone aquifer and remains stored in the high ground. It is from these ridge top reservoirs does water trickle feed the rest of the environment allowing the landscape to remain moist even during extended dry periods.

Plateau ground water tables rely on this store of water to keep them topped up during dry periods. Its from here does water leak from the landscape as springs, creating our hanging swamps and keeping our streams, water falls, rivers and wetlands full and flowing.

Rocla Materials PTY LTD plan to excavate vast quantities of Aquifer rock as part of their mine expansion at Calga and somehow claim their actions will have minimal impact on our water and biodiversity.

My professional opinion is that if the Calga sand mine expansion goes ahead, the impacts will be massive and long term, while the benefits to the Central Coast community will be minimal and short term. There are many sources of sand that, when extracted, have far less impact on the environment, community and economy than is the case when you remove our high sandstone aquifers.

The approval of this mine expansion will see more regular and more severe fire storm activity, as well as further suffering for our farmers, our tourism industry, our community, our landscape, our flora and fauna and local economy.

If I can look beyond the impacts of destroying our water supply, you still have major health concerns for local residents from the impacts of dust.  Silica is a common naturally occurring mineral, also known as silicon dioxide. One common type of crystalline silica is quartz, a major constituent of sandstone. As such, this hazard can be found in all forms of sandstone quarrying, but particularly were the stone is crushed to form sand.

Quarrying and crushing sandstone, as Rocla is doing at Calga, will inevitable create a dust hazard for local residents.

Breathing in fine crystalline silica can cause:

  • Silicosis (an incurable lung disease, with inflammation and scarring of the lungs, causing shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue and other symptoms). Silicosis can develop either quickly or slowly depending on exposure levels. It is a potentially fatal condition.
  • Lung cancer (associated with silicosis).
  • Kidney disease.
  • Increased risk of tuberculosis.
  • Possible increased risk of autoimmune diseases.
  • Amorphous silica does not have these health hazards.

Furthermore, the Aboriginal people’s history is written on the rocks. We must stop this acceptance of their cultural genocide.

To truly understand the cultural and spiritual  importance of this site, I suggest you read the  open letter from Aboriginal Elder ‘Auntie’ Beve.  Her words demonstrate just how significant this landscape is to Aboriginal women and how imperative it is that we all take some action to save this sacred place.

If our leaders continue to make economic decision without appropriate consideration of the impacts on community and environment, then I have no doubt the end result will be straight from our worst nightmares. Now is the time for the community to unite and stand as one. If representative democracy has failed us then our only way forward is to become participants in the decision making process.

If the community is not heard on this issue then we, the communities representatives, will take Peaceful Direct Action to ensure our collective voices are listened to and the Calga sand mine extension is stopped.

Your support is needed more than ever. Please see below for details of how you can get involved.

Ian Sutton

Community Action

From  the Editor:  

This video presentation, produced by community member Andrew Cox, provides further insight into the cultural and environmental damage that this mining proposal would cause, including a detailed examination of the  pressure the sand mine extension would put on the local animal sanctuary and its endangered species breeding and education programs.

Featuring local political, indigenous and community identities, this is a story of strength, determination and community spirit shown by the Central Coast public.

Video by Andrew Cox

Get Involved!

It is a real indictment on the state of our democracy that our community, and a growing number of communities around the country, are having to force our governments to consider issues of environmental sustainability and cultural heritage. Democratic government is meant to protect people and regulate industry, not protect industry and regulate people. But it seems the NSW State Government misread the job description….

Despite the disastrous impacts of this 30 hectare mining proposal, the government has already given its approval to Rocla’s (obviously profitable) proposal. Operations are expected to start at any moment…. so every day counts folks!

Members of the local community are mobilised. Political pressure is mounting. There is an ever-growing community of protesters gathered at the entrance to the site.  But the fight isn’t over and we need your help to do it.

Visit Camp Quoll

Sign the  petition to NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell

Follow the  Camp  Quoll Community  Action Group on Facebook

Write to your MP

Rocla’s proposed mine expansion would be devastating to local waterways, the economy, and indigenous communities Australia wide. Please help us put a stop to it.

About the author:Ian Sutton

Community Worker and environmentalist Ian Sutton has been living and working on the NSW Central Coast for the past 15 years. He is well known in the area for his amazing work with the disadvantaged, motivating and mobilising those individuals and communities to stand up and help themselves.  He has also spent many years working with Aboriginal communities, learning the indigenous perspective of ecology and mastering their sustainable land management practices, and has worked with  Peter Andrews,  the ground-breaking founder of  Natural Sequence Farming.

Ian’s career has seen him working closely with  the welfare industry, as well as the government departments responsible for Education, Juvenile Justice and Housing. He  has been regularly recognised for his work in developing, co-ordinating and supervising some of their most successful programs. Local police have also engaged with Ian on some of his larger projects, recognising his ability to identify and improve factors that cause anti-social behaviour in some of our most disadvantaged communities.  

As well as building community spirit, his programs connect people to their local environments, transforming degraded urban areas into natural wonderlands – areas that become the central focus and meeting places for the people.  A qualified Greenkeeper, Horticulturalist, Laboratory Technician and Environmental Technologist, his Storm Water Catchment & Filtration program based at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre was  awarded  “Chief Executive Excellence Award” in NSW,  and his Urban Food Forest and Community Park  project was given the  Catchment Management Authority’s (CMA) Catchment Champions Award for innovation.


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