Snowy 2.0 prompts calls for high country facilities

The Port Phillip Fire Trail, pictured here at the Ghost Gully campground, will provide the only access to Tantangara Dam, once the Tantangara Dam Road is closed.

Anglers and water enthusiasts who frequent the high country are calling for camping facilities and road access upgrades in the Kosciuszko National Park, amid the prospect of restrictions to the area during the eight-year Snowy 2.0 build.

The impacts of the $5 billion-plus Snowy Hydro 2.0 work on the pursuits of recreational users of the Tantangara Dam and nearby attractions was the subject of a public meeting at the Tumut Golf Club on Saturday.

Tantangara Dam doesn’t have any toilets, designated camping areas, or any other facilities, but remains popular among trout anglers and those looking to get away from some of the crowds seen at other dams such as Blowering and Talbingo.

But Tantangara Road, the main access to the dam, is set to close later in the year, once work starts on the tunnel linking Tantangara Dam with Talbingo.

That road also provides access to some other key tourist attractions in the park, such as Currango Homestead and the popular horse-riding camping spot, Wares Yards.

The dam itself will remain open to the public to be used both during the construction period, and afterwards, said Snowy 2.0 relations manager Dean Lynch, with only a small section of water around the tunnel inlet to be cordoned off.

There are now calls for the other access road to the dam, the Port Phillip Fire Trail, to be upgraded to provide year-round access.

That trail has a couple of downsides – it’s shut to the public, along with Long Plain Road – during the winter months. The trail also cuts across the dam itself, and is blocked off to Currango, Wares Yards and some sections of the dam once the water storage reaches about 29 per cent of capacity.

Mr Lynch said Tantangara Dam would be held lower than that 29 per cent level during Snowy 2.0 construction – to allow workers to build the 27km tunnel from the dam to Talbingo. That would mean the trail could be used to access any part of the dam. However, winter access was a matter for the NPWS.

Tantangara Road also currently closes in winter, but only from the dam wall onwards, meaning access to the dam after June is possible.

Snowy Mountains Bush Users Group has offered to take the lead role in lobbying on behalf of recreational users.

“We’ve been speaking with the NPWS since last July, lobbying for the provision of toilet facilities at Tantangara Dam, on the western foreshores,” SMBUG president Allan Lanyon told the meeting.

“It’s been a bit like talking to a brick wall.”

Vern Walsh and Ray Holloway discuss the impacts of Snowy 2.0 with Snowy Hydro’s general manager of corporate affairs and media, Stephanie McKew.

SMBUG has also been asking for upgrades to the Port Phillip Fire Trail, namely a bridge which is difficult for vehicles with trailers to cross.

“It’s been almost 12 months since we first sat down with the NPWS,” Mr Lanyon said. “So far, we’ve not been able to get an answer.

“There’ll be real impacts from Snowy 2.0, we have legitimate concerns and we’d like to get some answers.

“We’d like that (Port Phillip) trail upgraded before Tantangara Road is closed … certainly by next winter (2020).”

Money for any facilities and road upgrades could come from expected environmental offsets to be paid by Snowy Hydro, likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars, Mr Lanyon said.

Snowy Hydro is yet to get state government approval to build the 27km tunnel from Tantangara to Talbingo – it only has consent for preliminary works around Lobs Hole, including exploratory digging, to find out where to it will site the massive underground power station.

Approval for the main project would be considered after an Environmental Impact Study, due in August this year, which will provide further details on the works at Tantangara, and its likely impacts.

That approval is likely to include a directive for Snowy Hydro to pay environmental offsets for the work its undertaking – they’ve already handed over $10m as part of the preliminary works consent – and there’s likely to be considerably more.

The state government and the National Parks and Wildlife Service will ultimately be responsible for determining how that money is spent – SMBUG wants some of that to go towards upgrading the Port Phillip Fire Trail, and camping facilities around the dam, including camps for horse riders.

Mr Lynch, meantime, said there was the prospect of Tantangara becoming a more attractive recreational asset at the conclusion of Snowy 2.0.

The spartan foreshores of Tantangara would have new camping areas and toilet facilities if recreational users have their way.

It’s likely to be held at about 80 per cent capacity at that time, more than double the typical storage level now, which tends to hover at about 30 per cent.

“We’ll be incentivised to hold more water in Tantangara,” Mr Lynch said. “It has the potential to be a beautiful dam to recreate on at the end of Snowy 2.0.

“We envisage camping grounds and allowing people access back down Tantangara Road – but that’s at the end of the scheme.”

One fisherman however said most would be against the idea of forcing campers into designated camping areas, with many preferring to set up wherever they like along the foreshore, much as what happens now at Blowering.