Whitehaven Coal Expects Final Maules Creek Approval Soon

Whitehaven Coal Ltd., Australia’s second-biggest independent coal producer, expects soon to complete approvals for its A$766 million ($785 million) Maules Creek mine, maintaining its target for first output next year.

“The issues left to be answered we believe we’ll be able to deal with those in quick fashion,” Mark Vaile, chairman of the Sydney-based company, said today in a phone interview. “The work that we’ve done particularly in the original application to the state government contains all the reassurances that the federal government needs.”

Whitehaven, which today appointed non-executive director Paul Flynn to succeed Tony Haggarty as chief executive officer, gained a conditional approval on Feb. 11 for the project from federal Environment Minister Tony Burke. The mine in New South Wales state has faced opposition from local green groups and farmers concerned about damage to a forest and cropping land.

“Our absolute focus as a company is to finalize our approvals process which we expect will be sooner rather than later,” Vaile said. The company expects to start production in the first half of next year.

Whitehaven fell 6.1 percent to A$2.94 at the close of trading in Sydney, the most since Aug. 24. The S&P/ASX 200 Materials Index decline 3.4 percent.

Whitehaven has said it was “extremely disappointed” about delays in gaining approvals after starting the process in August 2010. In the conditional approval, Burke asked for additional work including limiting clearance of vegetation to minimize its environmental impact.

Vaile said he’d had no direct contact in recent times with Nathan Tinkler, the company’s biggest shareholder. Tinkler Group in August scrapped a takeover valuing the producer at A$5.3 billion. Tinkler in October sought to oppose the election of five board directors, including Flynn.

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