Biosecurity plans, questions about the role of Visy and pledges to stand together rumbled around last Sunday’s community meeting about the proposed HumeLink project, with affected landholders finding laughs where they could.
“We should get a community grant,” suggested one landholder as the group discussed recruiting legal services.
“From TransGrid!” added another.
Bill Kingwill, Chair of the HumeLink Action Group, opened the meeting which was held at Yesteryear Plantations near Batlow, finishing with a call for landowners to write to local politicians.
After 18 months in the fight, Mr Kingwill isn’t pulling any punches, especially not since TransGrid announced an entirely new team to lead their work through the Snowy Valleys.
“We can fight them property by property, and you know how long that’s going to take,” he advised landholders, strategising about ways to keep TransGrid representatives off private land.
He said he’s not above using every tool available to keep the proposed 500kV power lines – and their builders – off his property, especially after previous disappointment with a TransGrid powerline and easement already on his property.
He urged landholders to post signs such as ‘P*ss off TransGrid’, ‘ Stop TransGrid Access Denied’ and ‘No TransGrid HumeLink.’
“Make sure you have a biosecurity plan,” he told the gathering on Sunday, saying they could deny access to TransGrid representatives.
“You can say [according to] my farm plan… you’re a biosecurity risk.”
Aiming high, he said landowners shouldn’t be willing to accept ‘a cent under’ $1 million per kilometre for any easements the company wants to build on their land, citing ongoing depreciation and damages as justification.
Landholder John Roche of Pondera Pastoral lives along one of the proposed corridors. He said his beef and sheep property will be impacted, end to end, for four kilometres.
“Yes, the easement will be 70 metres wide,” he said, “However, landowners need to know it’s the whole asset that will be devalued by 10-30 per cent, so if your asset is worth $ 1 million dollars, that’s $200,000 at least off your bottom line straight away.
“A depreciation of 20 per cent will have a significant impact on debt to equity ratio. This will impact anyone’s position with their bank. Transgrid need to know this.”
“TransGrid isn’t going to help you on that one,” said Mr Kingwill, when the issue was raised at Sunday’s meeting.
Mr Roche said he wanted to see the burden for the public infrastructure to be put on public land.
“Why should a handful of landowners carry such a financial burden for a state asset to benefit all of Australia when there is public land 10 kilometre away that this infrastructure could go on?” he questioned.
“It’s been built there before, it’s there now and it’s the triple bottom line option, a win win for all!”
Paul Sturgess, co-owner of Yesteryear Plantations, also pointed to the long term effects of the 70m-wide easements and 65 m-high towers.
“The depreciation doesn’t stop there, it’s going to carry on for generations,” he said.
“They should be paying you an annual fee. That would soften the blow.”
The farmers and graziers and entrepreneurs and longtime locals haven’t responded kindly to TransGrid’s recent promise of a ‘re-set’ in their community relations, with many saying the team has changed, but the attitudes seems to have remained the same.
Mr Kingwill told the crowd that TransGrid wanted to take advantage of their ‘clear, rolling’ hills and open grazing land, rather than doing the difficult work of clearing land through public areas like National Parks or State Forests – or going underground.
It’s been a contentious issue ever since the first letters were mailed to farmers along the Gilmore and Yaven Valleys, just weeks after the last flames of the Dunns Road fire were extinguished.
A ‘scathing’ report on TransGrid’s community relations was published by independent consultant Rod Stowe last August. Since its release, the community relations team for the HumeLink project has been almost entirely replaced, but landowners say their proposals for alternate routes still haven’t been properly acknowledged. In the meantime, they’re still receiving phone calls and letters from TransGrid representatives, wanting to access their properties for environmental studies and other investigations.
Mr Kingwill, and those gathered with him, said the answer is a clear ‘no’.
Co-Chair of the Action Group, Jen Dumbrell, said they’re also hoping for broader community support.
”We have tried to get the broader community involved from the beginning,” she said.
“It has been challenging as we have noticed that if you are not directly impacted generally it isn’t of much concern. It is time for the community to start to care and realise that although this may not be on their property, this is an infrastructure project of a grand scale and it will affect Tumut and the surrounding area and the communities way of life in so many aspects for generations to come.”
At Sunday’s meeting, Mr Kingwill earned hearty rounds of applause for his strong stance.
Local resident Louise Halsey then read out comments from a friend, who had asked her to speak and get the message out to local residents who don’t live directly under the powerlines.
“For the whole Tumut community, the transmission lines ringing Tumut will be a permanent stain on the aesthetics of the town. The community will wake up one morning wondering, ‘Oh, how did this happen?’” she read.
“This is outrageous given there is an alternate route away from Tumut through predominantly public land. This should be the biggest issue for the community and Snowy Valleys Council in decades.”
Mrs Dumbrell pointed to a recent meeting with TransGrid, during which the Action Group raised questions about their alternative ‘2F’ option which was first put to TransGrid over a year ago.
“TransGrid are only now informing us that they are commissioning an independent study to include this option and that they expect this assessment to be completed by the end of the year,” she said.
“What have they been doing all this time? What they want!
“If TransGrid wants to retain any social credibility, they need to start to do business differently. If they want cooperation and projects built in the future, they need to start regarding the landholders’ concerns as equally importance as those of a shareholder return on their investment.”
Former Batlow nurse Berlinde Rand said that she had an hour-long conversation with a TransGrid representative after the company’s recent community Zoom meeting, explaining to the representative that the meeting was a disaster and the company was in need of empathy training.
“She said, ‘Yes, you’re right, we do need empathy training, can I come onto your property… I want to see those special places,’” recounted Mrs Rand.
“I said, ‘After one hour, you’re still not getting it, it’s non negotiable.’”
Local businesswoman Hansie Armour also attended the meeting, frustrated that the wider community and government isn’t taking a stronger stance against the project. She said the power lines will dramatically impact the region’s tourism potential.
She said the Tumut Region Chamber of Commerce has heard that the area needs to boost its attractiveness to travellers to offset the loss of timber jobs after the Dunns Road fire.
“How are we going to get our community to stand up and say, ‘Oi that’s as far as you go, we’ve got nothing left to give, we’re barely sustainable now’?” she asked.
“The rest of the community is not really worried about it because it doesn’t concern them,” said Mr Kingwill.
Mrs Dumbrell said the group is reaching a “make or break” point.
“The next six months is the most crucial part of TransGrid’s timeline to influence the decision, making for the success of the whole project and an outcome that is best for all,” she said.
“We will fight to the end to protect our properties, communities and our future generations.”
The group said they’re currently working to gain broader media coverage in national programs, with larger gatherings and protests planned for the future.