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Mt Emerald project still a windy issue for council

A $560 million wind farm project earmarked for the Tableland is again at the centre of council attention.

At her first council meeting, new Division 6 councillor Marjorie Pagani alleged some former and current councillors had accepted gifts from the developers of the Mt Emerald Wind Farm project.

Cr Pagani’s comments came less than three months after she publicly opposed the results of a survey relating to the development.

She lives on Marnane Rd at Tolga, less than 2km from the proposed wind farm site. She also owns Allawah Rural Retreat, an eco-friendly, luxury hill-top spa lodge situated just 1600m away.

Cr Pagani, a barrister, raised the topic of the wind farm in the general business section of the meeting. The multi-million dollar proposal is a partnership between wind farm giant RATCH-Australia and land owners Port Bajool, run by director John Morris.

“People are aware (the former) council has entertained RATCH and that RATCH has bestowed gifts on them (in the form of helicopter flights over the site),” Cr Pagani said.

“I was invited by Mr Morris to take a flight (over the site) but I declined before and after I became a councillor.”

A RATCH-Australia spokesman said the TRC was “the government decision making body for this important project and as a part of keeping them informed, RATCH-Australia and Port Bajool have offered to take the councillors to the Mt Emerald site to see it and help explain where and what will be located there.”

Cr Pagani was quoted prior to her nomination for the Division 6 seat in the Advertiser (Friday, April 27, 2012, P4), describing a public survey conducted by Auspoll for RATCH-Australia as “unfair, unbalanced and irrelevant.”

“I have not been consulted and have paid a very large sum of money for this property which includes council permits for an additional six lodges on the ridge facing the proposed turbines,” she said in April.

But Cr Shaaron Linwood said councillors who accepted a helicopter ride were just doing their jobs.

“Having a proper look at proposals is part of our role as a council,” she said. Former councillor Rhonda Sorensen said inspecting a project was “a significant part of the job.”

Cr Pagani said she was “not suggesting council had done something wrong” but the feeling among residents in her division was that council had listened to the “big guys and not the little guys”.

General manager for planning and development Steven Ripper reminded councillors the proposal was not impact assessable, but code assessable under State Legislation. Code assessable developments are compared and assessed against building codes by a council assessor. Public notification is not required and submissions are not considered.

Cr Pagani called for council to arrange a public meeting at Tolga for concerned residents, but Mayor Rosa Lee Long said RATCH-Australia was “keen” to facilitate one of it’s own. Former Mayor Tom Gilmore said inspecting a site was “entirely proper” and “simply an information gathering exercise.”

Former Division 6 councillor Chris Adams said Cr Pagani was doing her job. “The bottom line is she is there to represent her constituents and this development will have a significant impact on many of them,” he said.

Former councillor Alan Pedersen said he had accepted a helicopter ride from the project developers, but only to arm himself with more information about the proposal. “It is no different to meeting a developer and driving around a subdivision and looking at relevant issues,” he said.

Fellow former councillor Len Curtis said he did not go on the flight offered.

Former councillor Fred Williams said he “certainly took the flight”.

“I inspected the site which is part of my role,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Evan McGrath said he had “not been out to the site”. Cr Jenny Jensen said she chose “not to take up offers from developers”.

Council CEO Ian Church said Cr Pagani had recognised she had a conflict of interest in the matter of the Mt Emerald Wind Farm development application.

“This was done by way of email correspondence with council on June 8,” Mr Church said.

“As a result Cr Pagani will comply with the requirements of the Local Government Act and declare a conflict when any matter relating to the application is included on a council agenda.” Cr Pagani declined to comment further.