At a time when the Snowy Valleys region needs a lift, news that Snowy 2.0 remains on track will be music to the ears of its advocates.
With the destructive Dunns Road fire now spanning over 330,000 hectares and affecting the Snowy Mountains Highway between Talbingo and Adaminaby along with the Kosciuszko National Park, a cloud hovered over the 2.0 project for a couple of weeks with limited access available to assess any potential damage to the site and machinery.
As affected communities trying their best to get back to some sense of normality, Snowy 2.0 Project Director Kieran Cusack confirmed that works will recommence as normal, with over 90% of the project’s earth moving equipment still in tact.
“For Snowy 2.0, I think we were very fortunate to come through the bushfires with very little damage to our plant equipment on site,” Mr Cusack said.
“We have had a few pieces of equipment that were affected by fire, but largely the bulk of our plant equipment for Leed and Future Generation, our contractors, is intact and can be restarted and back underway.
“We had a few site sheds and a few ancillary equipment like pumps etc that were impacted, but for the most part, more than 90% of our major plant equipment for the earth moving is intact.”
Snowy Hydro is currently working with National Parks on getting access to the project site and ensuring this access is safe for workers to use.
This process has involved making sure the link road from the Snowy Mountains Highway and the project site roads are clear of any potentially dangerous trees.
Mr Cusack said that from here on out, the project is pretty much back to business as usual.
“We are all systems go, full steam ahead and by early next week we will be back to normal,” he said.
“Both Leed and Future Generation are just remobilising all of their personnel such that we can get back started.
“Clearly a part of that is the accommodation and so we are looking to base the accommodation for those people as close to the project site as possible and that’s going to revolve around Adaminaby and Talbingo.
“Talbingo will be a base for some of the Future Generation personnel going forward.”
For the current moment, Snowy Hydro will use the existing accommodation providers that are in Talbingo and Adaminaby, but in the long run, Mr Cusack said more options will be needed.
“Going forward, that will not suffice for the project in terms of the numbers that we ramp up to, so we’re busy working with the regulatory authorities to get approval for some camp type facilities both back in Cabramurra and potentially some in Adaminaby,” he said.
“Our main game is to get the camp built within Lobs Hole itself and that comes later this year, so until we get to that point, we will be using the accommodation providers that exist in Talbingo and Adaminaby.”
The Snowy 2.0 site was evacuated by National Parks for around two weeks as the bushfire tore through the region, meaning no work was conducted on the project during that time.
According to Mr Cusack, in a project of six years, a two week delay is “relatively inconsequential” from an overall point of view.
Despite concerns that the bushfires will have detrimental effects on the region’s economy, Mr Cusack remains confident that Snowy 2.0 will still provide real financial boosts to the communities it surrounds.
“Our views about that are unchanged,” he said.
“The project will bring significant economic benefit to the surrounding communities and yes there will be jobs available for local people and then there will be business opportunities for local businesses so that is unchanged.
“I think that in the short term, there is a small opportunity whilst our Cabramurra accommodation is unavailable, that we can provide a short term economic benefit in using those accommodation providers that potentially we would not have.
“So we need to have meals and accommodation for the workforce. Clearly whilst we are working to get Cabramurra re-established, we need to find a place for those people so that is an economic benefit that we didn’t see before or didn’t have before.”
Earlier this week, Snowy Hydro confirmed there had been significant losses as a result of the Dunns Road fire in Cabramurra, Snowy Hydro’s operational town.
Thirty-six houses were destroyed, along with several of the unit blocks, the school, the old ski club, and the Edinburgh Cottage where many members of the Royal family, including the Queen, and other VIPs have stayed over the years.
The main buildings housing the bistro and general store, the fuel depot and other buildings are all standing and will be used as a base to rebuild from. Services have been restored to the township including power, water and sewerage.
Snowy Hydro is working closely with the Rural Fire Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service to establish safe access for staff.
The Cabramurra township is temporarily closed to the public due to safety reasons. Some of the destroyed buildings contain asbestos and require specialist remediation before the area can be considered safe.
Mr Cusack said that the losses at Cabramurra will have minimal impact on the 2.0 project.
“There is accommodation still available for the ongoing operations of Snowy Hydro, so our normal operations are un-impacted and with our quick mobilisation of the accommodation in the surrounding areas, it’s really quite minimal in terms of an impact to the project,” he said.
“Our intent is to make it zero impact and certainly that’s what we are working very hard to do.”
At a time when communities are suffering such devastation, Mr Cusack is hopeful the news that Snowy 2.0 is unaffected will offer people something to hold on to.
“That’s why we wanted to make sure that people understood that there’s been a very minor impact to the project,” he said.
“There has been a small delay to us getting access to site, but our intent with delivering the project, our time schedule to get things moving and happening, that is unchanged and I think that is really important for the local community to understand.
“We are, when I say full steam ahead, from our perspective, nothing has changed and we are working diligently to make that so.”