Council joins Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance

Filed in Just In by June 1, 2021

LAST night the Upper Hunter Shire Council resolved to support the Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance (MCA) by opposing the TransGrid power line corridor proposal.

MCA President Peter Campbell told Council the current proposed route will a have a “detrimental impact” farming production capacity. (See related story: Power line corridor impacts farming).

“What we oppose is TransGrid’s desktop feasibility study to determine the location of the corridor. TransGrid’s five alternative routes between Merriwa and Cassilis are all through strategic agricultural land and we don’t accept any of those options,” Mr Campbell said.

“There was a lack of prior consultation with our farming community, a lack of agricultural representation, a lack of comprehensive research and a lack of  any transparency in the flow of this information by TransGrid. This has resulted in a proposed study corridor location that fails to understand the requirements and impact of the powerlines on modern farming practices and therefore poses a serious threat to the viability and value of our local farms,” he said.

Councillor James Burns was heavily in favour of the motion, which resolved to “instruct the General Manager to make the strongest possible representations” to Members of Parliament and work with the Planning department to find an alternate less invasive route.

However, councillors Sue Abbott and Lee Watts were not totally convince, both saying they would like to more information before committing to opposing the corridor altogether.

“We need to be involved in this as a Council, it’s 810km long. The average width of this easement is four and a half kilometres, that’s a tenth of the size of our actual Shire, it’s a lot of land that they are talking about. I don’t know anything about farming in a cropping sense, the fact that they aren’t going to drive underneath this, it’s going to take out a lot of land, a lot of room they need to actually utilise in order to bring that 130 million into our economy,” Cr Burns said.

“I know the staff response says there is communication going on, we need to get better at that as well. The MCA are driving this, we will simply take their lead,” he said.

“It’s premature to oppose the route at this stage, basically due to the lack of available information. We may well oppose the project as more information becomes available,” Cr Abbott said.

“I support Council needs to be involved in this and the delivery of renewable energy, but Council does need more information, what are the objections? I support the last paragraph that’s been put forward by Council. I’m not saying we need to say no, I’m saying Council should not make a decision without having the full amount of information in front of us,” Cr Watts said.

Cr Burns said the motion is not about opposing the entire project or renewable energy, but opposing the current proposed route going through agricultural land.

“Imagine it was a horse stud or a coal mine, this conversation wouldn’t be happening, because they just would not have it. We have to protect our strategic agricultural land and make sure we’re in the fight to start with, citizens are asking for our help, we need to get in there now,” Cr Burns said.

Councillors Burns, Driscoll and Collison voted for the motion, with Councillors Watts and Abbott voting against.

Cr Ron Campbell declared a disclosure of interest as a Merriwa resident. He remained outside of the room during Mr Campbell’s presentation, Council discussion and abstained from voting.

MOTION

1. instruct the General Manager to make the strongest possible representations to the State Member for Upper Hunter Mr David Layzell MP, the Deputy Premier of NSW the Hon John Barilaro MP, the NSW Minster for Energy and Environment the Hon Matthew Kean MP, the NSW State Planning Minister the Hon Rob Stokes MP, the NSW Minister for Agriculture the Hon Mr Adam Marshal MP, Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter the Hon Mr Taylor Martin MLC, in opposition of the Central-west Orana Renewable Energy Zone High voltage transmission line route and work with the Planning department to find an alternate and suitable route that is less invasive on the population and the farming communities of the Upper Hunter Shire including those of the Merriwa and Cassilis district.

Appropriate measures to be included in the representations:

i. That the Upper Hunter Shire Council engage with the Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance so that the Upper Hunter Shire Council can be provided with a specific and in depth understanding of the project by a landholder representative body when approached by TransGrid for further Consultation and any approvals processes. The objective of which is to ensure that the final feasibility study determining the location of the corridor and ultimately the power line route is comprehensive and transparent.

ii. An extension of 12 months the ‘study corridor refined’ and consultation period till late 2022.

iii. That a copy of the full feasibility study be provided to the Upper Hunter Shire Council and Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance as soon as possible to be studied.

2.  fully support the Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance in its motion to safeguard the strategic agricultural land of Merriwa and Cassilis Districts through making representations to the above-mentioned Members of Parliament and NSW State Government.

Council staff have introduced themselves and provided contact details to the Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance for ongoing communication. To date, staff have not been contacted by the Alliance. Staff also attended a meeting of the Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone Regional Reference Group on 22 February 2021. The next meeting of the reference group is scheduled for 2 June 2021. The Central-West Orana REZ transmission study corridor is approximately 180km long and generally between 3-6km wide.

The final transmission easements will be 60m or 80m wide and will be informed by consultation with stakeholders and detailed environmental assessment. The transmission study corridor includes areas identified as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land within the Upper Hunter Shire LGA. The degree of impact of the proposed transmission line on strategic agricultural land is unknown at this stage as the environmental assessment has not been completed. It is considered premature to oppose the route at this stage due to the lack of available information. Council may choose to oppose the project as further information becomes available during the environmental assessment phase. 

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