Seven years ago last Saturday many residents of Bentley and a broad coalition of Northern Rivers citizens who were opposing the proposed Metgasco unconventional mining operation, who had not long before had braced themselves for the arrival of 800 riot police, received news that the NSW government had stopped the mine and had referred Metgasco to ICAC.
Probably the smartest move the authorities made was not turning the thousands gathered at Gate A into martyrs for the cause at the hands of hundreds of cops.
This was a huge win for people power as much as the environment and many future fights worldwide took strength from the outcome at a little hamlet west of Lismore.
You would need to be a pretty tough customer to go head to head with the people of Bentley, yet, that is exactly what Rob and Sarah McKenzie*, the operators of the Bentley Quarry, what they say is a local, family-operated business, are doing.
Seven years later another fight
On the anniversary of the 2014 win, the farmers were again out in force to express their opposition to what they see at the next threat to the community – an expansion of the Bentley Quarry, a hole in the ground they say was opened in the seventies and then abandoned for over 40 years. It was recently reopened with an allowance for what they estimate is two trucks a week.
The farmers say that the truck movements have gone from removing 3,000m³ per year to 6,000 tonnes per year and about 30 trucks a day. They say this is without proper approval. The current quarry operators are now putting forward a plan to expand it to 300,000 tonnes per annum of outgoing material, and 50,000 tonnes per annum of incoming material and about 100 truck movements a day.
Bentley resident Rosemary Joseph feels it is terribly unjust that someone can move into an area which has supported sustainable rural businesses for generation upon generation – cattle, cropping, permaculture, regenerative and sustainable farming – and immediately decide to change all that and destroy it all, just for a short term monetary gain. ‘There are many others who do not run a farm here but have moved here to be part of that peaceful rural community and enjoy the wonderful lifestyle that ensues, only to have it destroyed at the whim of one person. From 7am to 6 pm, five days per week and 7am to 2pm on Saturdays with trucks, blasting, noise, dust and visual pollution.’
Craig Armstrong is the sixth generation of his family to live in the area of Disputed Plains at Bentley. He says the threat of this quarry is keeping him awake at night. ‘We just can’t understand how it could even have been approved in 2018, and its massive expansion development, taking potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars off our asset worth, without which, all we have is debt like most agri-businesses. How an already non-compliant recent setup could take from my sixth generational children beggars belief in this country.
Many locals have quarries
Mr Armstrong says many locals have quarries. ‘None of us has ever tried to take from the rest of the community to supply one’s greed. That it’s just about on top of the Metgasco drill site and Bentley blockade, makes their audacity all the more staggering. My Grandfather shut his legitimate council supplying quarry down at Leycester in the early 90s because it wasn’t the best thing for the community. This is on a whole different scale.’
The farmers are opposed to the quarry on the ground that they say include road safety; an industrialisation of their quiet, peaceful rural valley; environmental spoiling; and, noise, vibration, dust and water pollution as well as damaging the developing tourism industry.
Local man Charles Wilkinson says that as a volunteer he spent a lot of his time fighting fires all over the state in 2019, helping to protect people and their communities. ‘I am now facing an individual trying to destroy my own community with a massive quarry expansion on my doorstep. I feel betrayed and I feel we are being robbed of our valley’s specialness. How can somebody just come along and rob me and my family of our future? Greed before community – It’s not right!’
Focus on working with nature
Sean Rich has a small family garlic farm in the area and run the Kyogle permaculture group which has a lot of focus on working with nature to protect the land for future generations. Mr Rich says the rolling hills and beautiful landscape is what attracted him to the region. ‘But now we have to fight to keep it that way. Blasting and 100 more trucks per day is what’s on the cards. Extractive industries only open up the area for rezoning for larger extractive industries.
‘This isn’t a future that we should have to negotiate with Richmond Valley Council and the Bentley quarry. Richmond Valley council prides itself on farming yet they want to put a big hole in prime farming land and the hearts of the community. Protecting wildlife and waterways. Our back creek is the life of our area.
Vanessa Rich says that locals want to see projects that benefit our community and environment, like planting trees, protecting wildlife, feeding people, safer roads and bringing the community together. ‘This quarry is the opposite of all those things.’
Ross Joseph says that so many from everywhere fought here, and with the farmers, to save the Bentley Valley from CSG only to see it under threat from a mega quarry in the same area. ‘This is encroachment of industrialisation into a productive rural landscape – blasting, dust and noise. The impact of extra trucks on the traffic load on an already very busy and dangerous main road will be horrendous – likewise the impact on traffic on minor connecting roads. There are environmental impacts – potential threats of polluted water run-off into nearby Back Creek.’
Mrs Joseph says she is really scared of the increase in truck movements. ‘One hundred truck movements per day is proposed on this already horrific and dangerous Lismore to Kyogle Road. There are school buses, pre-school drop-off and pick-up, all at significant increase in the risk of serious road accidents. What price can be put on a human life?’
Mr Armstrong says it’s just wrong for one person to take so much from so many. ‘It leaves us all asset poor because our properties will be so greatly devalued, robbing us of our “superannuation”. It is robbing our kids of their legacy.
’Someone moves in and changes everything for everyone.’
* The Echo endeavored to get a comment from the operators of the quarry but are yet to hear back.