Plan for a Worker Camp at Suttor to house workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council
Plan for a Worker Camp at Suttor to house workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council

Worker camp court case linked to ghost town fears

A PROPOSAL to almost double the size of a miner's camp at Suttor is now before a court amid arguments it would render the Glenden township unviable.

QCoal Group made an application to expand the non-resident worker's camp at 529 Wollombi Road in 2019 in preparation for the next phase of the Byerwen Coal Mine.

The company proposed adding an extra 350 rooms to expand accommodation to 600 rooms for 650 workers.

Plan for a Worker Camp at Suttor to house workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Purple boxes indicate existing rooms under stage 1. Green rooms indicate proposed new rooms under the stage 2 application before the court. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council
Plan for a Worker Camp at Suttor to house workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Purple boxes indicate existing rooms under stage 1. Green rooms indicate proposed new rooms under the stage 2 application before the court. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council

The existing work camp, which has been operating since late January 2018, is temporary and all buildings at the site are demountable structures.

Those 349 accommodation units were approved in 2016 for four years from when the use began or when the Byerwen Coal Mine project construction phase ended.

Byerwen Coal Mine officially opened in September 2019 and had already reached full production by June this year.

In documents submitted to Isaac Regional Council, QCoal said the majority of people at the Works Camp during the operational phase were expected to be from the Isaac, Whitsunday and Mackay regions.

The company provided figures arguing Byerwen Coal Mine contributed $23,803,000 in goods and services into Glenden, about 45 minutes from the camp, and the Isaac Region between April 2018 and March 2019.

"The Byerwen Coal Mine has a 50-year life and requires access to permanent accommodation in close proximity to the mine," QCoal said in its application.

"The project has a 50-year life and by year five will directly contribute $289 million annually to the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday region and an estimated $143 million annually to the

Queensland economy.

 

Estimated contribution to Glenden and the Isaac region from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council
Estimated contribution to Glenden and the Isaac region from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council

"The proposal includes the development of a works camp for FIFO/DIDO employees associated with the construction and operation of the Byerwen Coal Mine, located to the north east of the camp.

"The works camp is proposed to be a permanent camp for the duration of construction and mining activities associated with the Byerwen Coal Mine."

 

 

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Isaac Regional Council refused the expansion application on April 24 and QCoal lodged an appeal with the Queensland Planning and Environment Court on May 22.

In a document before the court, Isaac said QCoal's application should be refused because the proposed development would adversely affect the strength and long-term viability of resource communities such as Glenden.

"The proposed development does not support sustainable, balanced resource communities, such as Glenden, through implemented planning and delivery of land uses, infrastructure, economic development and housing provision," the document, submitted to the court on Friday, read.

"The proposed development will not promote a locally retained and resident workforce."

 

The day Byerwen coal mine site opened in the Bowen Basin. Picture: Melanie Whiting
The day Byerwen coal mine site opened in the Bowen Basin. Picture: Melanie Whiting

The council argued the land is outside the urban footprint for the region and does not encourage settlement in mining communities.

"The proposed development undermines the intent for Glenden to be the primary residential accommodation area for the coal mining industry and this impact will continue for the lifetime of the Byerwen Coal Project (ie. 50 years)," the council said.

"The proposed development would result in the establishment of an isolated, transient community removed from the public open space, and cultural, recreational and social facilities and activities provided in Glenden.

" (QCoal) has failed to demonstrate that suitable accommodation arrangements cannot be secured within Glenden to conveniently service BCP's needs, for the lifetime of the project."

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But in asking the court to overturn Isaac's refusal of the application, QCoal argued the development would "contribute to the economic viability of Glenden" throughout the Byerwen project's lifetime.

"Residents staying at the Works Camp are expected to continue to support the Glenden economy in an ad hoc or as needed basis, purchasing supplies such food and fuel," the original application stated.

"The economy of Glenden will also be supported by those workers staying in QCoal-owned or leased houses accommodation in Glenden (10 houses).

"QCoal has reported that their contractors are investigating options to engage with potential suppliers in Glenden."

QCoal states in its submission to that court that "suitable accommodation arrangements cannot be secured in Glenden" in the short term "and in all likelihood, beyond".

In the original application in 2015, the Isaac council indicated the critical issue was the "need" for a worker camp and has this time focused on the social impact of an expansion that could leave Glenden even more of a ghost town.

Byerwen Coal said it was investigating the option of accommodating the construction and operation workforce in Glenden.

"However this option rested exclusively on Glencore offering accommodation at commercial rates and on suitable terms to Byerwen Coal," the document read.

"Unfortunately, an arrangement could not be finalised, and Byerwen Coal had to pursue a

works camp in close proximity to the mine to minimise the safety risks arising from travelling to and from the mine site.

"Since those investigations occurred in 2015 and 2016, it is understood Glencore has acquired the nearby Hail Creek Mine and this has the potential to dramatically reduce the already limited availability of suitable accommodation in Glenden.

"Given the accommodation requirements to support the Byerwen Mine ramp up to 10 Mpta of product coal, there is a clear need to provide this additional permanent accommodation in

close proximity to the Byerwen Mine."

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The worker camp application for Suttor says there would only ever be 600 people based at the camp with operator Sodexo offering about 90 per cent room availability at any one time because of room maintenance and check-in/check-out.

The application says the move would not require the company to clear any native vegetation on the 9786-hectare property and the camp, using just 0.28 per cent of the land, could be decommissioned and the site rehabilitated once mine operations ended.

A traffic analysis found there would be little impact on existing flows.

Byerwen is a joint venture between QCoal Pty Ltd and JFE Steel.

The case will next be reviewed on November 16.

 

Fast facts for the Byerwen Coal Project in the Bowen Basin. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council.
Fast facts for the Byerwen Coal Project in the Bowen Basin. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council.

 

 

WHERE IS THE WORKER CAMP

The camp is about 35km, or 40 minutes drive, to the closest township, Glenden, and 94km from Collinsville to the north and 100km from Nebo to the south east.

The North Queensland Gas Pipeline, Sunwater's Burdekin to Moranbah Pipeline and the Goonyella-Abbot Point rail line are all located to the east of the existing works camp.

QCoal's operations include Sonoma Mine, Cows Mine, Jax Mine, Drake Mine and Byerwen Coal Mine

 

 

WHO WOULD LIVE AT THE WORKER CAMP

It is expected the works camp will be operated by 10-20 staff who will also live at the camp.

QCoal anticipate 10 staff will be onsite for the early morning shift (generally kitchen and cleaning staff), 12 staff will work a standard day shift (typically management and administration staff) and six staff will work the evening shift (mainly kitchen staff). It is expected the works camp staff are on a 14 days on/seven days off roster.

The camp would cater for FIFO and DIDO workers typically on 12.5 hour shifts on a variety of rosters.

"QCoal do not 'hot bed'. One room is allocated to one person for a 24-hour period. Permanent rooms are allocated to personnel who work a Monday to Friday roster," the application said.

It also details:

  • About 70 per cent of residents travelling from the southeast will be DIDO with the remaining 25 per cent FIFO from either Mackay or Moranbah.
  • DIDO residents travel to/from the southeast to the works camp by both bus and car with a 40/60 split.
  • FIFO residents travel to/from the southeast to the works camp by both bus and car with an 80/20% split.
  • Residents travelling to/from the northwest to the works camp are DIDO only, with an assumed 80 per cent travelling in single vehicles and 20 per cent carpooling.
  • There are about 540 personnel working in the mining operations at the current time. Of these about 98 per cent (530) are non-residents who live at the works camp. On completion of the final construction phase (assumed 2026) there will be about 610 personnel working in the mining operations. Of these about 98 per cent (600) are expected to be non-residents who live at the worker camp.
  • The peak number of workers assigned to the mine during its full operation phase will be about 610 personnel with a total workforce on site at any one time of about 330.
  • There will be about 80 administrative staff employed during the full operation phase.
  • The operational mine workforce will work a 12-hour day or night time shift (24-hour operation). 80 per cent of the rostered shifts will be 7 days on/7 days off, 5 per cent will be 10 days on/4 days off and the remaining 15 per cent will be Monday-Friday day shift only.
  • Travel to and from the camp for both worker types at change of roster will be similar to the Construction Phase, and as in the previous phases, many operational workers will be bussed to site, while the majority of administrative workers will likely travel by private vehicle.
Byerwen Coal Mine in Central Queensland
Byerwen Coal Mine in Central Queensland

 

 

PROJECTED ECONOMIC IMPACT

An Economic Impact Assessment, undertaken by the Flinders Group for the Byerwen Coal Mine in 2013, stated average production of 10Mtpa of coal would result in up to about $263 million per annum in royalty payments and levies to the Queensland Government, equating to $13.2 billion over the full life of the project.

The Flinders Group also noted investment in the project was expected to generate increased economic activity and employment in the region, which in turn would hopefully increase the

region's population as workers and their families moved to the area,

There is also expected growth in the region's temporary population should employees choose to work in a DIDO basis.

The conclusion of the Economic Impact Assessment states economic benefits including:

• Contribution to meeting project shortfall in global coking coal market

• Contribution to regional household income

• Contribution to employment, education and training opportunities and

• Continued prosperity of the Queensland economy.

 

Floor plan for four-person staff quarters at a Suttor Worker Camp housing workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council
Floor plan for four-person staff quarters at a Suttor Worker Camp housing workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council

 

WORKER CAMP ROOMS

The single person quarters are 14.4m x 3.3m and contain four rooms per module.

Each room contains:

• 1 x king ensemble

• 1 x desk and chair

• 1 x robe

• 1 x motel fridge

• 1 x ensuite

• 1 x flat screen TV

• 1 x reverse cycle air conditioner

• 1 x smoke detector

• 1 x fire extinguisher on exterior of room

 

The central facilities area is 12m x 45m and contains the following:

• 48 x tables

• 240 x chairs

• 1 x dual zone refrigerated container

• 1 x dry store shipping container (with shelves)

• 1 x refrigerated garbage rooms (with eight wheelie bins)

• Cooking equipment

• 10 x reverse cycle air conditioners

• 1 x thermal smoke alarm

• 2 x fire extinguishers (kitchen specific)

• 2 x emergency exit signs

 

The wet mess is 12m x 12m and contains the following:

• Seating for 50 persons

• Cool room and storage area

• Bar, sink and drainer

• 1 x large flat screen TV

• 6 x reverse cycle air conditioners

• Double door access

 

The gymnasium is 12.0m x 12.0m and contains the following:

• Gym equipment

• Sink and drainer

• 1 x large flat screen TV

• 6 x reverse cycle air conditioners

 

 

Recreation room floor plan for a Worker Camp at Suttor to house workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council
Recreation room floor plan for a Worker Camp at Suttor to house workers from the Byerwen Coal Project. Picture: QCoal/Isaac Regional Council

The recreation room is 12m x 15m and contains the following:

• Lounge chairs

• Indoor recreation equipment

• 4 x computer work stations

• 2 x large flat screen TVs

• 10 x reverse cycle air conditioners

 

The laundry blocks are 12m x 3m and contain the following:

• 8 x Maytag washing machines

• 8 x Maytag dryers

• 2 x laundry tubs

• 1 x small bench

• 1 x hot water service



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