Rio criticised over Warkworth in lead-up to anti-coal protest at Newcastle on Sunday.

RIO Tinto has been criticised by environmentalists and Bulga residents for clearing a strip of land on Saddleback Ridge while knowing its expansion plans for the Warkworth mine were being challenged in court.

DISPUTED: Land on Saddleback Ridge cleared to extend Warkworth open-cut mine. Lock The Gate says Rio Tinto should have waited until the outcome of a court appeal.

DISPUTED: Land on Saddleback Ridge cleared to extend Warkworth open-cut mine. Lock The Gate says Rio Tinto should have waited until the outcome of a court appeal.

The clearing took place in February but environmental group Lock The Gate has released aerial drone footage of the work in the lead-up to Sunday’s “Break Free” anti-coal blockade of the Port of Newcastle. Lock The Gate representative Georgina Woods said the aerial footage showed Rio had begun clearing Saddleback Ridge before a judicial review of the mine’s extension could be heard.

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association representative John Krey said residents were “disappointed and angry” with the land clearing.

Rio Tinto spokesperson Graham Witherspoon said the land clearing had stopped as soon as the progress association lodged its appeal, but Mr Krey disputed this, saying the bulldozing continued for some time afterwards. Mr Witherspoon said the clearing was done legally, and none of the land cleared was Warkworth Sands Woodland.

 ““It was essential to allow the mine, which provides work for 1300 people, to continue operating,” Mr Witherspoon said. But Mr Krey disputed this, and said Rio had effectively “got in early” to clear the land even though it would have known an appeal was coming.

He said proof of Rio’s intent could be seen in the company clearing a strip of ridge 350 metres wide, when normal practice was to clear a strip of about 100 metres, or about one year’s mining.

  • Video at The Herald online.