Coal mining is often contentious.
Coal mining is often contentious. Supplied

'Tortuous' big coal battle at New Acland

A LONG legal saga over a proposed $900 million coal mine expansion has shifted gear but is far from over.

The latest twist involved Land Court President Fleur Kingham making orders in what she dubbed the "tortuous" New Acland Stage 3 application.

The orders were delivered in Brisbane on Wednesday afternoon.

Pivotal issues included noise levels and children's burial sites in the proposed New Acland Coal expansion area north of Oakey.

The upshot is that NAC must now apply to the Coordinator-General to change some environmental authority conditions.

Ms Kingham described amended noise limits ranging from 34 to 56 decibels, but those limits vary at different times of day.

The existing environmental authority said noise "must not cause an environmental nuisance, at any sensitive place".

If new noise conditions aren't approved, most likely by May 31 next year, the Land Court will recommend refusing NAC's application.

The Land Court also ordered an investigation into the children's grave sites, using an archeologist.

Any graves found must be recorded.

The issues of costs remained undecided.

"It's a bit hard to speculate with so many balls in the air," Ms Kingham told Dr Christopher McGrath, Oakey Coal Action Alliance's barrister.

Several locals voiced confusion in court about the future.

"I imagine your desire for an end date is shared by everybody," Ms Kingham told one. "I can share that desire with you."

"A case like this distorts our stats dramatically," she said to laughter from the public gallery. "It's certainly quite aged now".

NAC owner New Hope Group voiced some optimism after the judgment - but so did Oakey Coal Action Alliance.

"This is a promising result for New Hope Group, our employees and their families, stakeholders and the local community," a New Hope Group spokeswoman said.

More steps were still needed for final project approval, NAC added.

"We will be working closely with the relevant Queensland Government departments in order to achieve these approvals."

But the alliance's spokesman Paul King said he believed New Hope would be caught out with the coordinator-general relating to conditions around noise limits at night.

"We will endure it, we haven't won yet but we will continue to hold it at bay until it is no longer a threat."

In March, the Supreme Court reviewed Member Paul Smith's decision to reject the Stage 3 expansion.

Issues including noise, intergenerational equity and groundwater were also discussed at the March trial.

NAC got its wish in May, when Justice Helen Bowskill overturned Mr Smith's recommendation.

That meant the proposal went back to the Land Court. -NewsRegional