This ‘Event’ was initially a political grandstanding and a typical ‘nation building’ agenda. – Complete ABC ‘Utopia’!
Later in the day; SOMR had many concerns heard, if not listened to, by the Proponents, some politicians and ARC. I believe communication and the start of ‘trust’ has been established with OMPH PL. Politicians are still ‘out-there’ spinning.
The project has a long way to go to even have a real economic feasibility assessment by the Proponents and feel it is unlikely they will even request a Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) before preparing a positive feasibility costing for their financial backers: China based Alinta Energy and EY.
The long one:
Heading upriver to Georges Junction on Monday 12th October, were the Chairperson of Thunggutti Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC), 2 community representatives, Arthur Bain, as CEO of Thunggutti LALC, and myself, Rupert, representing SOMR.
That morning ABC local radio aired Melinda Pavey, Matthew Kean and a representative from the Clean Energy Council releasing statements/news that the Project was going ahead, fast-tracked as critical state significant nation building infrastructure etc… with all the positive ‘spin’ they could muster.
Arriving not long after the speeches commenced; we were greeted by Jeremy Moon and Anthony Melov from OMPH Pty ltd. in attendance were representatives from Armidale Regional Council (ARC), Marquees with food and beverages, TV cameras and the above politicians, with staffers from Sydney, relaying the same radio ‘spin’ almost verbatim for the cameras. – My personal thoughts were, that this a filming for a new program of the ABC’s ‘Utopia’, not needing any retakes or editing! Thankfully, that was quickly over.
Notably; the downstream Kempsey Shire Council appeared absent.
Enjoying the sunshine with a slight breeze and the amazing scenery the stage was set for a welcome to country, relay of the importance of this country and its ‘sites’ with meaningful connection to the Thungutti and a smoking ceremony. The emotion was felt by all.
This set the scene for closer networking and discussions about what was really being proposed, the stage the project is up to, where to from here and some of SOMR’s issues of concern.
The Project is not yet even in the Planning Approval process! The Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARSs) are yet to be requested and issued.
The Minister for Environment, Matt Kean advised that the Planning processes would be ‘fast tracked’ as State Significant Critical Infrastructure; confirming (in both formal and informal discussions) that this means; ‘The process will be thorough, but placed on top of the pile as a priority’ for attention.
Rupert requested and was assured by OMPH PL, Matt Keane and as a back-up ARC that SOMR would be consulted when the SEARs were being and/or were drafted. (I believe this makes sense to the Proponents and the Govt. as not to would delay the project time-frame! – Should it go ahead.)
OMPH PL have prepared some Concept designs, which were tabled at the meeting. These are still a works in progress and indicative only and will change as various issues and design criteria are evaluated. For example, they don’t even know how the sites, top & bottom, are to be accessed for both roading and transmission lines.
OMPH are currently investigating the geology and groundwater, through bores. They were interested to hear of the potential for Antimony and Arsenic etc in varying levels naturally in the escarpment’s geology. Rupert advised that would be one item SOMR would be looking to see included in the SEARS and following Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). If present; this would be a concern for use of excavated material for dam wall construction and roading; requiring significant mitigation works.
Until SOMR knows where and what type and then construction method of bridges over the Macleay are being considered, significant comment is premature. But crossings and roading close to a highly fluctuating river with a large catchment are a major concern for SOMR; and no doubt the Proponent! It was relayed that SOMR would want this thoroughly addressed.
OMPH seemed not fully aware of the plume of As & Sb coming down from Bakers Creek/Hillgrove, or Red River Resources proposals for reprocessing and remediation of the historic waste piles. Being downstream this would have a significant bearing on their works in the Macleay’s Active Flood and Riparian Zones for their pump-in and top-up works.
It was stated, mainly by Melinda Pavey, that ‘… Release of (3-6 gl) stored water could assist Kempsey Shire in water security during severe droughts.’ I was asked my opinion of this by the ABC and stated that; ‘If the drought was that significant, there would be many large pools to fill before it got to even Bellbrook!’ which is 100km down-stream. (My take: Common sense is not common, even in a water Minister!) And secondly, not said, why would OMPH, a commercial business, or the Govt, do that to release power generation capacity?
I personally believe the project; once transmission lines and roading etc. are factored into the costs, it will be very close to economically unfeasible and may go the way of previous Pumped Hydro proposals in the Macleay. – Canned!
That is; unless NSW or Federal Govt put more money into the venture: to prove a point?… Watch this space!
Restrictions due to the Covid 19 pandemic have meant that some of the committee have been meeting online (using Zoom) as well as face to face. This has thrown up some challenges, but also some opportunities to increase engagement. At the AGM (Sat Aug 8 th ) there will be a proposal to change our constitution to allow electronic participation in meetings to meet the requirements of forming a quorum and enable electronic voting.
● OMPH have had contact with a Local Residents Group (Lower Creek) and the Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council – these have been initial contacts and are not “consultation”. They have offered, as is standard practice, to fund any cultural site investigations.
● Armidale Regional Council has recognised SOMR as a key stakeholder and will ensure we are informed of developments. They will also keep Kempsey Shire Council , who are unaware of the proposal, in the loop.
● Communications with UNE and SCU have informed us that neither has been engaged to do any Environmental Impact Studies, the scientists cannot give advice on the project without more information.
● Jeremy Moon from OMPH has responded to SOMR’s communication – describing his commitment to stabilising the grid for the effective use of renewables, he clarified that there will be no renewable energy directly associated with the project. He is to be invited (via Zoom) to do a meet and greet with SOMR on 8 th August – it is to be made extremely clear that this is an introduction not a “community consultation”.
● Summary sent to Greens MP’s , with a request to use question time to highlight this issue – no response.