Issues of concern – update May 2023

Since the last public event SOMR organised in November 2022, committee members have attended to several issues of concern.

Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro

OMPHS, the proponents of the pumped hydro scheme in the Macleay Valley, lodged the EIS and DA documents with the State Government close to the elections in March 23.

Ever since, it has been a wait for the Department of Industry and Environment (DoPIE) to publish the documents and the time frame for lodging submissions (usually a minimum of 28 days are given). The SOMR Secretary has prepared sample submission letters and a list of issues to address. This material will be made available to the members and interested parties as soon as the OMPHS EIS and DA are published.

Besides the impact on the Macleay River, questions about the cost of the scheme have been raised many times. In recent weeks several articles have been published in Renew Economy comparing batteries to pumped hydro..

The Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Scheme is part of the state significant New England Renewable Energy Zone. The massive solar and wind-turbine arrays and transmission lines on the Tablelands are dividing the community. Energy companies seem to portray the development as a ‘done deal’ as it is needed/directed by the State Government. Some community members are lobbying for a reduction of the required out-put from 8Mw to 5Mw which would lessen the impact on land, residents and cost.

Increased water use in the Upper Macleay Catchment

“Seeking water security for people and nature” is the motto of a new community group within Sustainable Living Armidale called Sustainable Water Futures Armidale Region (SWFAR). One of their first actions was to learn how Armidale Regional Council is going about planning for water security into the 2040s, and comment on this to Council.

SOMR as well as the Armidale Branch National Parks Association, are concerned that the Armidale

Regional Council (ARC) is not sufficiently considering the environment in its Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy. ARC’s current preferred water security option, includes both raising Malpas dam spillway by 6.5 metres plus buying the old broken Oaky River dam, refurbishing it and constructing a 67km pipeline to pump water to Armidale (and possibly to Malpas) – at costs initially estimated at $26m for Malpas plus $108m for the Oaky scheme plus $870,000/year if 10ML/day is pumped from the Oaky.

Further concerns have been raised about the water use and run-off from water intensive horticulture industries on the Tablelands.

SOMR is seeking more information about Kempsey Shire Council’s knowledge of the impact of upriver water use on the Macleay downstream and collaboration strategies between ARC and KSC.

River bed gravel extraction at Turners Flat

Two extraction sites scaled up from the approved are located in an existing gravel flood-channel of the Macleay River at Turners Flat.

Every time the river rises, the channels created by the gravel extraction cause an increasing retreating nick-point and bank erosion on neighbouring properties.

The Development Approvals for the quarries were issued by Council in 1997.

A SOMR post from April 2022 describes the effects on the river in detail. (

In a letter to Dept Planning Industry & Environment SOMR asked when the ‘historic’ DA and Controlled Activity Approvals and Licensing can be brought up to current standards and was advised that the Turners Flat operators are required to re-apply for ‘continuation of their Controlled Activity Approval operating conditions’ in early 2025.

SOMR members recently inspected the neighbouring site with permission of the affected property owner where extensive bank degradation can be seen.

Aerial view of extraction site, March 23

Mining and Mining Exploration

  • Hillgrove Mine, operated by Red River Resources has been in Care & Maintenance mode since Sept 2022.
  • Halls Peak Mine Critical Resources Ltd (CRL) Exploration EL4474 completed exploratory drilling in 2022 described in their annual report as “administrative in nature”.
  • Summit Resources’ Windfall Project’, EL 9235 some 200km² Exploration focuses on antimony at historic mines in Mungay Creek, Toorooka and well into Nambucca Shire. Several EL Access Agreements, with compensatory payments have been signed by property owners in the Mungay Creek area. No activities have been reported. The company shares an office address in WA with ‘Critical Resources’ (see Halls Peak).

Estuary Wetlands

  • Yarrahapinni Wetlands
    The removal of the levee for full rehabilitation of the Yarrahapinni Wetlands is still only approx 50% completed. In 2007 the task was taken on by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) from the YWR Trust with funding. The full history of the Yarrahapinni Wetlands can be found on
  • Clybucca Wetlands Macarobinni Gates in the Clybucca Wetlands area are receiving $10,000 pa for repairs and recent concrete restoration works has been carried out by Kempsey Shire Council. SOMR will query Council as this seems to be in contradiction to an earlier Council decision not to fund maintenance for those gates.

Water Quality Monitoring

Early in February SOMR conducted a water test at Mooneba. Using the test kit, it was noted that most of the chemicals have gone past their use-by date. Unfortunately, that made the results unreliable. There is still some money from the initial fund raiser, but not enough, to purchase a new kit required to do further testing. Our attempts to secure a grant have so far been unsuccessful.

Discussions with Council about funding of water monitoring and sharing test data are ongoing.

Currently water testing is needed at Saltwater Creek in South West Rocks to monitor the impact of the adjacent land clearing for the Rise Development, however, the equipment available to Voices of SWR is also inadequate. Other options are being sought.

Illegal Dams in the Clybucca Area

According to a report in The Macleay Argus, the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is prosecuting business owner Xiuming Lin and company Green Leaf Australia Group Pty Ltd. Each are facing two counts of building dams without approval, four counts of using dams without approval and six counts relating to illegal excavations on waterfront land. It is feared that the illegal excavations cause damage to the adjacent wetlands. The case was listed for mention in Kempsey Local Court on April 6.

Coastal Zone Management Program (CMP)

KSC has issued Expressions of Interest for the preparation of their CMP.

This is advised as being an ongoing multi -staged process, which could take some time to finalise by KS Council.

Draft North Coast Water Management Strategy

The second public exhibition ended in 2022. At the time, SOMR lodged a submission. No response has been received.

Paddle on the Macleay

On 17 September 2023, coinciding with the Gladstone Quality Markets, SOMR will organise Paddle on the Macleay in the Smithtown-Gladstone vicinity. Returning to the starting point in Smithtown, no car shuffle will be needed.

SOMR information stall will be at the Gladstone Market. The paddlers can be greeted and encouraged from the river bank.

Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro – Public Information Forum Report

The Public Information Forum on Saturday 19 November was attended by 100 Macleay residents and three OMPHS representatives. SOMR organised this event to provide an opportunity for the proponents of the scheme to give a comprehensive presentation of the plans as well as for representatives of the First Nations community, environmentalists and local residents to ask questions and voice their concerns.

After the initial introduction of the program, SOMR founding member Arthur Bain, handed over to the Forum Moderator Dr Tim Cadman, Research Fellow at Griffith University and Mid North Coast resident.

First up, SOMR Secretary Rupert Milne Home explained the planning process.

The Forum was timely, because the planning process for the project is at a significant stage with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Development Application (DA) to be finalised and lodged with Department of Planning and Environment (DPIE) soon.

OMPHS representative Patricio Munoz explained that, while they intend to lodge the documents by the end of the year, they do not expect the public exhibition by the DPIE before February 2023. These documents will consist of several hundred pages with the public given the required 28 days to comment and write submissions.

Patricio then gave an overview of the project using some of the maps and illustrations which can be found on their website He emphasized that the Macleay River will not be dammed and that ‘fast tracking’ the project does not mean that there will be short cuts in the planning process.

The OMPHS representatives had to leave after their presentation with very little time to answer questions at the meeting. Therefore, questions were later taken from the floor to be sent to OMPHS. (See below)

The speakers for the Dunghutti Nation, Warren Roberts and Clarrie Hoskins, as well as members of the audience stated repeatedly that the consultation with the First Nation community so far is unsatisfactory as is the research into the impact on culture and country. In the words of Warren Roberts: “The consultative process is no way sufficient for us to come on board”.

Addressing one of SOMR’s main concerns, Arthur Bain presented a recently completed report by Professor Scott Johnson of Southern Cross University. Based on water samples taken in Bellbrook by Arthur on behalf of SOMR over several years, it clearly shows how the presence of antimony and arsenic levels in the river are impacted by rain and fire events. Therefore, any soil and rock disturbance during the construction and operation of the Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project may have the potential to contaminate the Macleay River. Addressing prevention of this contamination in the planning stage is of utmost importance. (Find the presentation on One Drive!AnFAkxeTrT19qE9h0kgsafMSSVrW?e=Y60ByT )

The final speaker, ecologist Mark Graham has spent most of his life in the North Coast and Mid North Coast. He described the Macleay Valley as central to the Great Eastern Ranges, one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world with globally significant conservation values. The valley is a vital link in the wildlife corridor extending from Gippsland to Queensland. Mark displayed a huge list of threatened species that rely on this corridor. He is concerned the pumped hydro project will cut into the corridor and weaken its critical role in the protection of biodiversity.

In conclusion, Mark pointed to alternative pumped hydro options in less vulnerable environments. One such project is being explored in abandoned coal mines in the Hunter Valley.

Overall, the forum was a good introduction to the proposed project, however many questions remain.

Here are the questions from the floor after OMPHS representatives had left the Forum. They are listed in the order of asking and will be given to OMPHS.

  1. What are the provisions for decommissioning and rehabilitation of the site at end of life; and who will pay for it?
  2. What are the statistics on evaporation during high temperatures, low flow and drought?
  3. What is needed to upgrade the existing transmission lines and who will pay for that?
  4. What will be done to manage the contamination of Antimony and Arsenic etc. (naturally) in the geology of the area?
  5. What are the Alternatives to this Project?
  6. Why cannot a large battery storage be built in Armidale (near the sub-station)?
  7. How much Pumped Hydro Storage is planned for the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ)? – Any other PHS projects proposed here?
  8. Will the Proponent commit to a Non-State Significant Development pathway, to allow for greater community engagement? 1.
  9. Can the Proponent guarantee no adverse impact on the Carrai water table?
  10. Where are the profits going?
  11. Why build in such a culturally significant area?
  12. Please confirm dates (and extent) of Aboriginal Community Consultation?
  13. Have OMPHS considered purchase of the Oakey River Hydro Scheme project? – If not, why not?
  14. To DPIE and Proponent: Why make staged pathway? 2
  15. Why was this site chosen, and was there any personal interest involved?

Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Information Forum

Some facts about the project:

The Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project (OMPS)
 * Will not dam the Macleay River
The two reservoirs to be built for the pumped hydro power generation will not be in the
riverbed. There will be a lower reservoir near the river and an upper reservoir about 600m above.
The project will purchase power from the grid to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper in times of low demand/cost power; and release water, driving the turbines, generating electricity in high demand/cost periods. Profit will be made from the price differences.
Only the lower reservoir will initially be filled and topped up as required. The proponents say they will fill and top up the lower reservoir from the Macleay River only during times of high-water flows.

*  Will not give water security to the residents of the Kempsey Shire during
times of drought.
Oven Mountain reservoirs will not contribute to the Kempsey Shire water security.
Water released during a drought would soon be absorbed into the riverbed. It would not reach Bellbrook and therefore be of no use. It is not part of the project plan.
* Will provide employment
The proponents have estimated that there will be 600 jobs created during the construction phase and have hinted at 1,000 not 3,000 jobs as stated by our local State MP.
* Will store electricity
The current proposal for the Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project aims to provide up to 900MW, not 600MW as originally proposed. Proponents had to resubmit their proposal to the Dept of Planning Industry & Environment (DPIE). There is no net gain in electricity generated from the project.
* Will impact on our roads
Road access for the project may be from Kempsey via Armidale Road. It appears that upgrades will initially be paid for by the NSW government.
* Will cost ratepayers & taxpayers
So far, the project has been allocated funding of approx. $12 million from the NSW and Commonwealth governments.
* Will submit EIS for community consultation before the decision of the
Minister for Planning, Environment and Industry
The proponents have engaged consultants to develop the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The document is expected to consist of several hundred pages. The Development
Application (DA) and EIS is proposed to be lodged by the end of 2022. Following the DA’s and EIS’s placement on Public Exhibition (by DPIE) the public will have 28 working days to lodge submissions.
* Will be operated by Alinta Energy
The land is owned by local family company Hoshac Pty Ltd.
The proponents are OMPS Pty Ltd who will hand the project to Alinta Energy when operational.