The Far North’s peak economic development body has been accused of having a conflict of interest over its endorsement of a Tablelands wind farm.
Advance Cairns has been advocating the Mt Emerald Wind Farm, proposed on land near Walkamin, for at least three years.
The $380 million development, which is to include up to 75 turbines, is a joint venture between property developers Port Bajool and power producers Ratch Australia.
Advance Cairns deputy chairwoman Wendy Morris is in charge of marketing and communications for Port Bajool.
The Queensland Government is assessing whether to approve the project.
Dalrymple MP Shane Knuth said the development body needed to tread carefully.
“We’ve got a lot of outsiders that are lobbying for this wind farm,” he said.
“Obviously somewhere along the line, there may be a conflict of interest.
“There are other projects in place, such as the inland highway and the Tully hydro-electric scheme that they can get behind instead.”
Advance Cairns has made no secret of Mrs Morris’s involvement in the wind farm project, clearly stating this on the organisation’s website.
Mrs Morris dismissed suggestions of any conflict of interest, saying that she stepped away from any discussion about the project in her role as Advance Cairns deputy chairwoman.
“I very much disclose if there’s any discussion, obviously with Advance Cairns,’’ she said.
“But (Port Bajool) have very much been the landholders, and not the project managers as far as the development goes.”
The wind farm would generate up to 225mW of electricity, enough to power 75,000 homes each year.
Each turbine is to stand about 80m-90m tall.
A recent community survey about the project, which canvassed 288 properties within 5km of the proposed wind farm site, found more than 90 per cent opposed the development.
A previous independent survey, commissioned by Ratch Australia in March 2012, found more than 80 per cent of respondents were aware of the proposed development.
That survey, however, queried only 17 residents living within 5km of the proposed wind farm site.
Mr Knuth urged Advance Cairns to meet with local property owners to ensure it was aware of all issues, as the residents – under the State’s Planning Act – were unable to make any formal objections.
“Obviously it’s not all members of Advance Cairns (who have potential conflict of interest), but there are some that have great influence over others,’’ he said.
“Advance Cairns needs to sit at the table with the farming community and residents that have contributed millions of dollars back into the Tablelands economy.
“The reality is, (the wind farm) is a multi-million-dollar scheme that is really going to give little back in benefits, but destroy the economic quality of life of that region.”
Advance Cairns chief executive Mark Matthews said the board did support the wind farm, but was conscious of any conflict of interest involving Mrs Morris.
“We are extremely sensitive about being seen to be even handed about this,’’ he said.
He said it was important the community become involved in shaping the development.
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