More than 70 concerned residents of the district from Hedley to Yarram filled the Yarram Country Club meeting room on Thursday night to plan how best to appeal State Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s approval of Synergy Wind’s proposal to erect 34 wind turbines close to their homes.
Convened by the saveyarram.com collective, a core group of about one dozen affected residents, the meeting heard how the notice of approval had been released by the minister’s office on New Year’s Eve, meaning any objection had to be lodged with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal within 28 days of the minister’s December 22 decision.
The approval, which runs to 19 pages, grants Synergy Wind five years to begin the project and another five years to complete the erection of the 34 turbines, which may be up to 260 metres tall.
Meeting chair Trevor Colvin explained the meeting was not to discuss the merits or otherwise of wind farms, or renewable energy, but to address the options the community had in responding to the planning permit.
“We have been talking about that [windfarms] for a couple of years and that opportunity has been taken,” he said.
“Our main purpose tonight is to discuss the actions that are open to us right now.”
He explained the approval had been granted and that there was only one real option available to those opposing the permit and that was an appeal to VCAT, with objections needing to be lodged by January 30.
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien has also criticised the timing of the state government’s approval of a permit for the Alberton wind farm.
He said Mr Wynne signed off on the wind farm three days before Christmas, with objectors not notified until December 30.
Mr O’Brien said news of the approval came as Gippslanders were distracted by the bushfires.
“The proposed Alberton wind farm has been strongly opposed by hundreds of locals in the Alberton, Gelliondale and Yarram areas, and yet the government is trying to sneak through its decision to approve it when most of Australia is shutdown,” he said.
“On top of this, many of the local residents are involved in their local CFA brigades and have been actively involved in strike teams fighting the fires in east Gippsland.
“To have the government try and sneak this announcement out at this time is just disgraceful.
“The very least the minister can do is extend the time to enable them to lodge an appeal at VCAT, given he refused to meet with opponents and additionally refused to appoint a planning panel to allow residents to have their say.
“Myself and most of the residents objecting to the wind farm do not oppose renewable energy, but we think this is simply the wrong place for a wind farm.”
At the meeting it was explained that it was possible to make individual and group objections, with costs of close to $900 to lodge an appeal and a daily hearing fee of between $362 and $700. Complex case fees may increase to $2500 a day depending on VCAT’s ruling.
Hedley resident Maree Avery highlighted Synergy Wind’s unsuccessful past efforts to obtain planning permits for a wind farm in Devon North, near Yarram, and sell them on.
“We are dealing with both state and federal governments, on the environment side of it,” she said.
She asserted the firms contracted to do Synergy Wind’s acoustic assessments and the bird and bat assessments were the firms that conducted the assessments for the Bald Hills Wind Farm.
“Bald Hills Wind Farm is, as you would know, in the middle of legal proceedings and the turbine noise has been deemed a nuisance noise under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.”
“That’s very important for us as and possibly an outcome will come … sooner rather than later.”
She suggested the Federal Windfarm Commissioner seemed to have no enforceable powers, but that his office had suggested as best practice the wind turbines should have a setback of at least two kilometres.
Under the planning approval granted by Mr Wynne, there are three houses under one kilometre from a turbine, one on Dawsons Rd, Alberton 450 metres from turbine 452, and two about 700 metres from turbines.
There will be 81 dwellings under the 2km setback, about 30 of them just a few metres more than 1km. Another 80 or more will be barely two and a half kilometres from the turbines.
The planning minister’s decision to not require an environmental impact statement for the project came in for criticism, given the mere hundreds of metres proximity of the turbines to the Nooramunga Coastal and Marine Park, Victoria’s largest Ramsar site and a breeding ground for endangered sea eagles and the summer feeding grounds for thousands of migratory seabirds and waders.
Local dairy farm owner and principal of Melbourne law firm McDonald Murholme, Alan J McDonald, outlined VCAT’s structure and procedures and urged the community to not be put off by its legalistic appearance. He urged anyone making an appeal to be prepared for a long, drawn out and possibly expensive process, and advised legal advice and expert evidence be presented during hearings.
An early appellant, Dan Hopkins of Hedley, outlined how he had already lodged his appeal online and explained he had objected to the lack of required consultation by the applicant, Synergy Wind and the Department of Environment Water and Planning, the lack of an environmental assessment and the loss of amenity and assets.
A show of hands indicated at least 25 people were willing to lodge applications of objection, with some hoping to be part of group objections to reduce individual costs.
A call for a fighting fund to support the purchase of protest signs and to finance VCAT appeals was made from the floor.
Synergy Wind conducted one-on-one briefings on sound and shadow flicker during March last year for affected residents.
Synergy Wind’s community information officer, Bruce Beatson, at the time defended the proposed wind farm.
“Every wind farm proposal anywhere in the world has people concerned and that is normal, as they are huge undertakings and do have impacts,” he said.
“However, that has to be balanced against the fact they do make a huge injection into the economy as well as being an environmentally tremendous way to go.”
A government spokesperson said the community’s views were considered thoroughly before the decision was made.
The minister will ask VCAT for more time for appeals to be lodged.
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