Corangamite Shire mayor Jo Beard’s reasons for opposing a 12-turbine wind farm that threatens the future of Cobden’s airfield are personal.
The airport has always been part of the Cobden local’s backyard, but its role as a vital community asset was brought home when her husband, Daniel, was involved in a serious car crash.
“It will be 20 years next year that… my husband was involved in a fatality car accident where two people were killed. He was probably one of the worst of the survivors and he was airlifted out of the Cobden airstrip,” she said.
“By the time he got to Melbourne they had to revive him. If he did not have that air ambulance taking him out of Cobden down to Melbourne… he wouldn’t be around.”
She said the strip remained an important landing site for the fixed-wing air ambulance, as well as the helicopter.
Cr Beard also pointed to the council-owned strip’s role in supporting aerial fire-fighting, agricultural spraying and tourism.
Cr Beard told this week’s Corangamite Shire council meeting that she would be standing up with her community and “fighting really hard to make sure that airstrip is still there”.
Plans for the Naroghid wind farm, located directly north of the Cobden airport, are being considered by the state Planning Minister. Corangamite councillors voted to lodge a submission objecting to the project.
Allinta Energy is behind the project, which would build 12 turbines measuring 180 metres high. The closest turbines would be about 2.5 kilometres from the runway, limiting the ability to take off and land and risking the strip’s future registration as a code one airfield.
Cr Lesley Brown said giving the Planning Minister control of wind farm approvals meant there was often little consideration of local people.
“I find it difficult to understand that the state government is the only authority to decide where these wind farms are located,” she said.
Cr Helen Durant said the airport provided an important service to the community, businesses and emergency services.
“I hope that common sense will prevail because if it doesn’t and the future of the airstrip is threatened than nothing will stand in the way of inappropriate sited wind towers in the future,” she said.
Cr Neil Trotter said the Planning Minister should “use his power to veto this forthwith”.
Cobden Aero Club member Duncan Morris thanked the council for supporting the strip in its submission.
The airstrip hosted a community day last weekend, with hundreds of people and about 40 planes flying in to show support. Mr Morris said a petition had received about 400 signatures within a couple of days.
“The wind farm commissioner came to our airport and had a look first-hand at what we saw as the troubles. He may not have the final decision, but I’d rather being going into this with his support rather than without it,” he said. “I suspect we’ll get his support.”
Mr Morris said the aero club and hangar owners group were also making a joint submission on the wind farm, which is being drafted up Sydney-based aviation lawyers.
Cobrico dairy farmer Angela Molloy told Tuesday night’s council meeting that the wind farm could impact her family’s right to farm.
“We have three turbines adjacent to our residence, with the first turbine 1.07 kilometres from our house,” she said.
Mrs Molloy said the farm’s fertiliser spreading was contracted to an aerial spraying company operating from the airport, which would not continue if the wind farm went ahead.
“The loss of this spreading pertains to a loss of $70,000 a year. Nothing a dairy farmer can withstand,” she said.
Mrs Molloy also raised concerns over shadow flicker, aviation lighting that could impact on sleep, and planning discrepancies found in the map of the Naroghid wind farm.
“When I first did a drive-by with another lady we found 40 houses missing off this map. This map has been in circulation since 2006 and we want to know why it hasn’t been picked up. It is disgusting. Where or how has any of this got through without someone checking it?” Mrs Molloy said.
“We now have a planning consultant that has cost us more money and he has found eight houses that range from 1.5 to three kilometres missing off the Naroghid wind farm map.”
Mrs Molloy said they had also received no communication from the wind farm company.
“Because we are objecting we’ve never heard from them,” she said.