Royalla residents are riled by a proposal to build a quarry nearby. They believe the possible environmental and social impacts – dust, illness, noise, environmental degradation, and water scarcity – outweigh the benefits, both for their village and for the wider region, including southern ACT suburbs.
“It’s not just a Royalla issue; it really does affect people in widespread ways and the communities for quite a decent distance around this quarry,” said Caroline Bradly, a member of the Royalla Quarry Opposition.
Monaro Rock (a joint venture between Monaro Mix Specified Concrete and Pacific Formwork) plan to build a hard rock quarry 5km north of the Monaro Highway / Old Cooma Road intersection, and close to ACT suburbs in Tuggeranong, like Theodore and Calwell.
They say the quarry would provide aggregates and other products, at first for their own concrete batching operations (cheaper than buying aggregate elsewhere), but ultimately for local and regional infrastructure and construction projects.
The company also says it will hire 20 to 30 full-time workers.
But the opposition group is unconvinced. For a start, they believe the quarry is unnecessary. There are three other hard rock quarries within 10km, five quarries within 50km, none operating at capacity, and with an estimated 70 years’ worth of materials.
“Why on Earth are we thinking about another quarry if there’s already enough quarries to service the region tenfold?” Ms Bradly asked.
“It seems like a pointless exercise.”
The quarry is in the middle of an E2 Environmental Conservation Area (containing high ecological or other values), where industry and most developments are prohibited.
However, the quarry is considered a state-significant development, and will be assessed by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
In a letter to residents, Monaro Rock stated their development application would be supported by a detailed technical Environmental Impact Statement, assessing transportation, dust and noise generation, vegetation clearing, social and visual amenity, Aboriginal and historic heritage, and water resources – issues the opposition group has concerns about.
“Understanding these concerns ensures we can plan a project that best takes these matters into consideration,” said Monaro Rock’s group operations manager, John Patterson.
Following initial consultation with the community, he said, the company would assess the potential environmental, social and economic outcomes identified.
Trucks and noise
Monaro Rock has stated that at full capacity, the quarry will produce 750,000 tonnes of hard rock each year.
The opposition group estimates 100 trucks would be needed each day to transport the aggregate, making 200 trips altogether. One route is to head onto the Monaro Highway, straight onto a 100kmh black spot, and thunder past southern Canberra suburbs to get to Queanbeyan. Another option, they think, is to use Old Cooma Road – a single lane rural road used by cyclists, and not set up for trucks.
The impacts of the quarry blasts could weaken the foundation of houses within a 5km radius, Ms Bradly said.
Living near a quarry can take its toll on health, as Ms Bradly knows well. She lives within 3km of the nearby Williamsdale quarry, and suffers from asthma. But, she said, she was not an asthmatic until she moved to the locality. She blames the fine dust blown from the quarry.
That dust, she said, contains fine particles of respirable silica – which can cause lung cancer, silicosis (scarring and stiffening of the lungs), kidney disease, and pulmonary disease. Silica dust can stay in the air for up to 12 days, and travel more than 15km.
The opposition group is concerned the dust could affect thousands of people living within a 5km radius of the quarry, particularly children (there are 18 schools within 7km of the proposed quarry site) and people with respiratory conditions.
Environment and water
Royalla Landcare’s Maryke Booth claims the proposed quarry site could destroy critically endangered box-gum grassy woodlands – of which there are less than 10% left in the world. The site is also home to the critically endangered pink-tailed legless lizard, and vulnerable species of birds, insects and plants.
“These ecological communities are some of the most threatened in Australia,” Ms Booth said. “I strongly call on [Monaro Rock] to withdraw this proposal.”
The community is also worried about water scarcity. Quarries use water to control dust, Ms Bradly said, but the proposed site does not have town water, and the company has told residents it is too costly to bring water in trucks.
“So the only place you’re getting water from is the ground,” Ms Bradly said. “The groundwater here is a finite and precious resource.”
Bores might run dry in the height of drought, as those servicing farms and agricultural businesses did in 2020. But drought is also a time of high bushfire risk; residents are concerned there will be no water to fight fires.
Vibrations from blasting, the group believes, could also crack dams, dispersing water that native animals and livestock rely on.
Monaro Rock said it could not comment on these concerns until it had submitted its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to the NSW Government.
“Monaro Rock has been listening to the feedback received from the community through our initial consultation, and will consider each of the concerns raised in planning for the Project,” Mr Patterson said.
“We hope that once the Environmental Impact Statement is finalised, the community’s queries will be answered.”
Environmental consultant Nick Warren, undertaking the EIS, told Quarry Magazine that Monaro Rock was confident the physical separation of the quarry from residents and careful planning would ensure that impacts from the project were acceptable.