Twenty-five people, including Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr and Albury MP Justin Clancy, joined an online forum last Wednesday with Snowy Valleys Council to discuss the Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct (SAP) and current works to reopen Elliott Way.
The SAP was announced in November 2019 by NSW Planning, in collaboration with the Department of Regional NSW. It includes a 40-year master plan to “stimulate economic development, investment and increase year-round jobs in the region.”
The Snowy Valleys Council has expressed concern that although “90 per cent of the power generated by Snowy Hydro is generated in the SVC area”, “ there is no investment proposed for the SVC area” aside from some additional accommodation at the Yarrangobilly Caves.
The plans focus largely around Jindabyne and the major snow resorts, such as Thredbo.
The SVC argued that “consideration should be given to the inclusion of the proposed Talbingo/Yarrangobilly Mountain Bike Park in the Special Activation Precinct” as a compromise step.
Dr McGirr agreed that the current plans, which will see the majority of the investments made on ‘the other side of the mountain’ from the SVC, should be reconsidered.
“I think it is important that the SVC shares in the benefits that area gained from the sale of Snowy Hydro,” he said at the closure of the online forum.
“The government’s framework for allocating those funds was clearly developed quite some time ago…We need to do more, we can do more; that’s certainly a job for me.”
He also enlisted the efforts of Albury MP Justin Clancy, who attended the forum, in an effort to ensure the SVC gets its share.
The SAP plan is being funded from the sale of the state’s share of the Snowy Hydro Scheme, but even the suggestion of works at the Yarrangobilly Caves raised significant concerns with local Aboriginal communities.
Representatives with the SAP management team clarified that there are no works planned for Yarrangobilly Caves within the SAP, but said they would hold a forum with the concerned parties to discuss the broader management and plans around the caves precinct.
Uncle John Casey was invited to share a Welcome to Country at the beginning of the forum, but declined for ethical reasons.
“It was a great shock to us, all this work that is going on, especially around Yarrangobilly and our areas where the women used to have the children,” he said as the forum opened.
“I find it quite difficult to invite and welcome all these councillors and people to country when our country is going to be absolutely devastated.
“I think there should have been more time and effort put into this. I really can’t give welcome to country when I know my country’s going to be devastated, when all them sacred areas, especially where the women used to have their children, they’ve been having children there for over 4000 years… none of this was looked into.
“I just cannot give welcome to country at this time.”
He said consultants which signed off on the Aboriginal heritage aspects of the SAP plans were not Ngarigo people and didn’t have the authority or knowledge to sign off on developments on Ngarigo land.
Dr McGirr said it was clear to him that the project managers had failed to achieve “full and open consultation with the traditional owners” in developing the master plan, which led to some confusion around works at the caves precinct and the exact scope of the SAP.
“That’s got to be a priority,” he said.
Other guests at the forum included SVC CEO Matt Hyde, Dean Lynch from Snowy Hydro, James Bolton from Regional NSW and Ryan Petrov from NSW National Parks and Wildlife, along with Snowy Valleys Councillors James Hayes, Julia Ham, Geoff Pritchard and Cate Cross.
Mr Lynch, representing Snowy Hydro, pointed to mobile phone towers which Snowy Hydro will finance along the Snowy Mountains Highway as a benefit for the SVC, improving both “the tourism experience, as well as keeping people safe” while travelling through the mountains.
He also provided an update on the ‘accommodation pressure’ which Snowy 2.0 has put on communities such as Cooma, Adamindaby, Talbingo and Tumut, saying the company plans to have 1700 beds ready for workers on site “by around about Christmas time”, which should relieve some of the pressure on housing.
“There are some economic benefits for the area [with workers living off site], but also downsides for affordable accommodation,” he said.
“We acknowledge that. We are building an accommodation camp in Cooma to offset that.”
The SAP was put on exhibition for 56 days, closing August 23 of this year. More than 2100 submissions were received, including one from the SVC.
Further community engagement is planned for the end of this year, with the final master plan to be released in the first half of 2022.