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St Patrick’s Day fires highlight importance of Cobden airport amid wind farm fears

Cobden’s airport is playing a vital role in firefighting efforts, proof that it needs to be protected from a potential wind farm development, its supporters say.

The airport became a base for firefighting aircraft as the St Patrick’s Day fires raged and crews continue to battle peat fires.

Speaking at the Corangamite Shire meeting on Tuesday, councillor Neil Trotter said he counted four helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft at the airport on Tuesday morning, while the aero club’s clubrooms were also being used as a base for emergency services.

“This tragedy for our community has highlighted the value of our airstrip,” he said.

“Blind Freddy can see what this facility means to this district. The Minister should… give this community the reassurance that this vital asset is not under threat.”

The Planning Minister has yet to rule on plans for a 12-turbine wind farm at Naroghid. The $100 million project would place 180-metre-high turbines within about 2.5 kilometres of the air strip.

Cobden Aero Club’s Duncan Morris said the current situation highlighted the need to keep up the fight to save the strip.

“I’ve absolutely no doubt that if the wind farm was already there… this (use of the strip) would have been severely limited, if not impossible,” he said.

“If the wind farm proposal goes ahead the airport would most certainly close… and the facility would not be available in the event of any similar fires in the future.”

Mayor Jo Beard said emergency services using the airport were full of praise for the facility.

“We’re seeing what a difference it can make to not only this community but across the region. You never know when it’s going to be needed,” she said.

In praising the community’s response to the St Patrick’s Day fires, Cr Ruth Gstrein said the disaster demonstrated the importance of retaining the air strip.

“What this has highlighted is the need to preserve the Cobden air strip as it is right now,” she said.

“If we ever needed a clear demonstration on why Cobden needs an airstrip we have it and we continue to see it today.”