Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr has issued a survey of landholders and neighbours about TransGrid’s proposed 500kV powerline project called ‘HumeLink’, finding that 93 per cent of respondents were ‘not at all satisfied’ or ‘not satisfied’ with the infrastructure-builder’s community consultation.
The survey period ran from August 5 to September 2 this year and received a total of 110 responses, though not all questions were answered.
Dr McGirr’s office said the respondents indicated “they believed TransGrid provided poor quality information regarding HumeLink and their practices were limited in scope and quality, resulting in dissatisfaction and stress across the community.”
The majority did not believe that TransGrid took into account community views, environmental issues or farming interests when planning the HumeLink route.
More than two thirds said they would lock their gates to TransGrid if no action was taken to respond to their concerns and said that taking part in TransGrid’s consultation process “negatively impacted their mental health.”
The vast majority of respondents – 84 per cent – were from the Snowy Valleys and Kyemba Valley area. 25 were from Tumut/Talbingo, 17 from Adjungbilliy/Batlow and 14 from Yaven Creek. Another 22 respondents were from the Kyeamba area.
The respondents’ primary concerns with HumeLink included:
Changes in value of land (93 per cent)
Visual impacts (88 per cent)
Impact on farm development and/or succession plans (82 per cent)
Land acquisition and easement process (79 per cent)
Impact on agricultural productivity (77 per cent)
Risk of bushfires from overhead transmission lines (74 per cent)
Risk of health issues (72 per cent)
Forty respondents said that taking part in the HumeLink consultation process had harmed their mental health, describing stress and anxiety and problems being able to sleep at night. Most said that they were affected by a “lack of clarity and uncertainty regarding the project and its impacts” (14 people), its impact on farming and their ability to conduct day-to-day activities or plan for the future (10 people) and an “overall lack of care and disrespect of community members” (13 people).
“Stress, not been able to sleep, worry about financial costs, total farm work has declined due to lack of time through dealing with related HumeLink paperwork, feeling of failure in not having control of one’s own land, feeling of being in limbo not knowing which way to go as far as the future, have (sought) medical treatment to try and cope.”
“The consultation process has caused an incredible amount of anxiety, so many unknowns and being treated with such disrespect by people who require OUR land to complete their project. Being threatened with compulsory acquisition is bullying and leaves me with feelings of hopelessness. The amount of time spent giving feedback that is then ignored, and the lack of care at genuine concerns is extremely deflating and soul destroying.”
“Stress. Creating a division and bad feeling between community members. Not knowing when/where or if it will happen. The devaluation of property. Lack of compensation.”
The company has recently been criticised in a report by independent consultant Rod Stowe for its community consultation process and vowed to ‘re-set’ their engagement with affected landholders.
A TransGrid spokesperson responded to Dr McGirr’s survey, saying “TransGrid remains committed to meaningful, transparent engagement throughout the course of the HumeLink project. We undertook a genuine reset of all community engagement processes in July 2021 and we have adopted all 20 recommendations made at that time by the landowner and community advocate Rod Stowe.”
As a response to the Stowe report, the company said it has:
• Embedded three Place Managers which have been actively engaging with landowners across our study corridor. In September we had over 900 interactions with landowners.
• Implemented regular project newsletters. We have now distributed newsletters in August 2021 and September 2021 with an ongoing frequency of at least quarterly.
• Established a Community Consultative Group framework. Nominations to the groups closed on the October 5, 2021. The three groups will be confirmed this month, with the first round of meetings starting in the week commencing October 25, 2021.
• Introduced a Landowner Assistance Program. The confidential and free counselling service has now been made available for all landowners impacted by the project.
• Commenced General Information Sessions. The first webinar was last week and Transgrid’s team will continue to hold webinars and we expect to transition to more face to face events as COVID restrictions ease.
They also signalled an ‘active investigation’ into new corridor options and “ongoing landowner consultation and environmental investigations.”
“ We would like to thank community groups for continuing to engage with us and we understand landowners and others in the HumeLink footprint need clarification on the project’s potential impact as soon as possible,” said the spokesperson.
TransGrid has promised to identify their preferred route for HumeLink “in the first half of 2022”.
However, Snowy Valleys landholders have so far been unimpressed with the ‘re-set’ and feel like it will be ‘more of the same.’
In the McGirr survey, respondents said they wanted better communication, regular updates, timely responses and transparency about the company’s process.
The push from the SVC landholder groups has been to re-route the power lines – which will be 65 metres high and require a 70 metre easement to connect Snowy 2.0 to the metropolitan grid – through public land.
Comments on the survey about the consultation process asked for “more regular updates.”
“Even if there is nothing to report then that’s what they should report,” said one respondents.
“Provide results of consultation. I have no idea if they have listened and taken on board what has been said. I want to know a more step by step process of what to do when they finally tell us the lines will actually go on our land.”
“[They should] have consulted with communities before determining the path to correctly understand and appreciate the impact their preferred path would have on our communities,” said another.
“Talk to all farmers as a collective. Not individually,” said a third.
“Listen and consider the alternative routes proposed by landholders..through state forest.”
The survey concluded with an open-ended question, asking respondents, ‘What do you think should be the next step in TransGrid’s HumeLink project?” 63 per cent called for a feasibility study which “considers all options and routes, including the opportunity to go underground.”
Further, 43 per cent said the company should “restart the engagement process and recommence with TransGrid co-designing an engagement process with locals.”
Eight other respondents said they wanted to see a project designed to travel through public land.