It was, as one objector put it, ‘‘Round One by a knockout’’.
She was referring to Mitchell Shire Council’s unanimous decision to reject the $100million Cherry Tree wind farm proposal at a special meeting on Thursday night.
The council, in caretaker mode, held the meeting to resolve its position ahead of a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing next month. Project proponent Infigen Energy took the matter to VCAT after its original application to the council wasn’t heard within the statutory 60-day timeframe and the application is regarded as a test case under the Victorian Government’s laws on wind farms brought in last year, which gave more power to local councils to decide.
But the necessity of the initial VCAT hearing is unclear, as Infigen proposes to amend its application after a landowner pulled out of negotiations. What seems certain is the council’s decision is the start of a longer fight.
Infigen development manager Laura Dunphy said the amended application was expected to be ready next month.
‘‘We will be updating the Council with the amendments, however, as VCAT is now the responsible authority for the proposal, we will be submitting the amended application with VCAT,’’ she said.
Council officers recommended approving the project in principle, with a host of conditions.
However, after hearing 37 submissions, all bar two against the proposal (see Page 5), councillors instead endorsed an alternative recommendation by Cr Bill Melbourne to reject it.
Grounds included that it adversely impacted the landscape values and visual amenity of the area; failed to address erosion; would harm tourism associated with the Goulburn River High Country Rail Trail and fauna in the area; failed to protect areas of high environmental values; failed to detail and address erosion during and after construction; failed to protect hill tops and ridge lines; did not protect and enhance natural resources and biodiversity; would result in a significant loss of native vegetation contrary to the Mitchell Planning Scheme; and did not demonstrate a net community benefit.
Cr Melbourne harked back to his youth rabbiting in the area.
‘‘I’m not against wind farms or any other renewable energy,’’ he said.
‘‘What I’m against is the location of these wind turbines. I will not let future generations see a downgrading of what I grew up with. I can fully understand what a desecration these turbines will be to the beauty of this valley.’’
Cr Ross Lee said a wind farm would spell the death knell for large birds in the area.
‘‘They’ll be gone,’’ he said.
‘‘While I support people I believe also we should support our (wildlife) … it’s time Australia stood up against inappropriate developments.’’
Cr Kelley Stewart said evidence about low-frequency sound still needed to be assessed by experts.
‘‘I think it’s premature to be giving planning decisions prior to the review by the (National Health and Medical Research Council). While Infigen and other people talk about there being no published evidence, that doesn’t mean there’s no evidence.’’
Cr Robert Parker said the project also didn’t fit in with the council’s own forward planning strategies, such as the 2020 vision.
‘‘The most valuable asset in this community is the country lifestyle,’’ he said.
Cr Des Callaghan, a Vietnam Veteran, said he was moved by the submission of fellow veteran and local resident Clarrie Cook, which detailed health issues.
‘‘I know exactly the reason Clarrie would have moved out there,’’ he said.
‘‘Things like (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and tinnitus, that is one of the diseases you can have. We’re all put here by the members of our community. We as a council are here to listen to our constituents.’’
Cr Trevor Tobias said councillors had to make tough decisions, and he did not believe the area was suitable for a wind farm, but he sounded a note of caution.
‘‘People constantly talk about our rates … for this council to fight this particular refusal though VCAT, next year when your rates go up by (an extra) one or two per cent, don’t whinge to the council.’’
Cr Graeme Coppel said while he supported sustainable, alternative energy sources, including wind farms, the Cherry Tree project had plenty of negatives.
‘‘This proposal has the potential of dividing our community irrevocably – such a huge price to our community is unacceptable,’’ he said.
It was also in ‘‘one of the most dangerous bushfire districts in the world’’ and there were concerns about Infigen’s financial viability, with its share price going from around $2 to 25 cents.
‘‘I am alarmed by this … if the applicant fails financially, the landowners and as an extension, our greater community, may well end up with a series of half-built lemons. What then?’’
Ms Dunphy said Thursday night’s submissions didn’t raise any new points, but ‘‘the amended plans have updated wind turbine locations further away from any dwelling, and therefore, the potential amenity of the impact of the amended proposal will be less than the original proposal’’.
‘‘There are a number of examples where we take into consideration the submissions; for example, we are working with (BEAM Mitchell Environment Group) and their suggested recommendations to further mitigate impacts.
‘‘We also note that the planning officer’s report recommended approval of the wind farm project which indicates they consider that it meets the objectives and guidelines of the very stringent wind farm guidelines. We are disappointed that the councillors chose to ignore the advice of their planning department.
‘‘We would like to emphasise the project meets all the stringent guidelines for proposed wind farm projects in Victoria. This project will provide renewable energy for approximately 22000 homes and will not emit any pollutants. Other wind farm projects have been shown to invest millions of dollars annually into the local community and promote local tourism. These are some of the benefits a community like Seymour will enjoy.’’
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding