Committee formed in fight against  proposed TransGrid power project

Willigobung resident Megan Finnimore (left) is on the committee that will represent the Yaven Creek/Lower Bago/Willigobung area.

The Willigobung, Lower Bagor and Yaven Creek communities came together at a meeting at Yaven Creek on Sunday, July 26 and they had one clear message: if TransGrid wants to work with us, they work with all of us.

“They’re going to want to cherry-pick us off,” warned cattle farmer Matt Pearce at the meeting which he co-hosted and co-organised.

TransGrid has released a proposal that could result in a 500kV powerline  being constructed through Yaven Creek and other local areas, to connect a Snowy 2.0 substation at Maragle with the metropolitan grid. The project is titled ‘HumeLink’ and will include 65-metre tall towers to carry the line, with a 70-metre easement. 

Mr Pearce said there are significant biosecurity risks for farms, with one landholder already reporting invasive weeds which have sprouted on his property underneath the 330kV line which TransGrid already has in the valley.

Farmers were encouraged to make sure their biosecurity plans are up to date and well advertised.

Beside Mr Pearce at the meeting was his wife, Angela, and recent Yaven Creek transplant Sanja Galic. Ms Galic and her husband, Joe, bought property in Yaven Creek last October, choosing that location over other areas in the Snowy Valleys because other properties had large power lines running through them.

“This didn’t show up on any maps or any searches,” Ms Galic said, adding that she wouldn’t have purchased the property if she had known this project was in the works. She and her family maintain a residence in Sydney, but travel down to their property on weekends. Like their neighbours, the Galics suffered extensive fire damage. 

The two-hour meeting at the Yaven Creek fire shed had nearly 100 people in attendance, socially distanced outside, with each person using sanitised pens to log their details in accordance with current Covid-19 protocols. 

TransGrid’s outreach to the community so far has been limited to two letters sent in the mail to farmers whose land falls directly within the proposed corridor. 

Among those at the meeting was Willigobung resident and Tumbarumba High School Relieving Deputy Principal Megan Finnimore.

According to plans, the proposed power line would go through Ms Finnimore’s property.

“We wanted the community to be informed of the project for landholders directly and indirectly impacted,” Ms Finnimore said.

“At the moment, TransGrid have only communicated with directly affected landholders through their mailout leaflet. 

“Unfortunately, people who fall just outside their proposed route corridor have not been informed, as they are not deemed to be directly affected. 

“It was about letting everyone in the Yaven Creek, Lower Bago and Willigobung communities know what the impacts will be if this line goes ahead in the current route corridor.”

The community elected a committee to represent their interests and liaise with TransGrid, politicians and the media.

Close to 100 attended the outside meeting, socially distancing in small family groups.

Chairing the committee will be Matt Pearce, who was nominated by a community member and received a round of applause for the work he and Ms Galic have done so far. Ms Galic will co-chair the committee, with other members including Megan Finnimore, Paul Bunter, Ian Robson, Frank Corbett, John Corbett and Nicki Pearce.

The committee will represent the Yaven Creek/Lower Bago/Willigobung area to represent the issues specific to that area. They intend to work with committees from other affected areas, such as Bombowlee and Gilmore.

Ms Finnimore said she feels very passionately about speaking up about this project.

“I often have people say to me that TransGrid have already made their decision where the line is going. I can’t sit back and wait for that decision and then look back on my time and say I should have tried,” Ms Finnimore said.

“Now is the time to be proactive and have our voices heard. If we don’t speak up now, we won’t have the opportunity again. 

“There was no other alternative for me, I wanted to be part of the committee. Of course, there are other things I could be doing, such as still cleaning up and rebuilding after the bushfires, which at the moment is still very time consuming. 

“We have to be a united front and forming this committee will be one step towards having our voices heard. 

“Unity is key and we have more influence in numbers as a collective to force TransGrid to consult and liaise with us as a community to include direct and indirect landholders and concerned residents.”

There was also a small group of residents from the Tumut area who are also directly impacted from the powerlines. They have since formed their own committee – the Adjungbilly to Batlow Resist HumeLink Corridor Committee. 

The timeline for the project allows 18 months between the start of the community consultation period (which TransGrid said began in February) and a final investment decision.

During the meeting, chair of the committee encouraged land holders to deny TransGrid access to their properties and to avoid any individual meetings or comments with the company. 

Instead, he urged farmers to stick together and voice their opinions – even pro-TransGrid opinions – to the committee, which will deal directly with the corporation.

Mr Pearce and others have also been seeking legal advice. 

For the Yaven Creek region, the alternative they’re currently exploring would reroute the TransGrid line through the nearby Green Hills State Forest. Mr Pearce encouraged community members with different views to contact the committee, but maintain a united front.

“If they have little regard for us as a community, then as a project, there’s no need for us to be sympathetic towards it,” he told them.

Ms Finnimore said the general feelings expressed at the meeting were of anger and frustration.

Committee chair Matt Pearce addressed the crowd of concerned local residents.

“There were some participants at the meeting that this was the first time they had heard about the project that was potentially going ahead in their area. Some farmers were too mentally exhausted to open their letters after the summer bushfires,” she said.

“Landholders are frustrated with the lack of community consultation from TransGrid. A simple mailout letter briefly describing the project is not sufficient. Another TransGrid project ‘Energy Connect’ occurring in the Western Riverina has had drop-in community information sessions, yet we have been told by TransGrid that they will not be conducting community meetings due to Covid-19. 

“Whilst Covid-19 is an impediment, TransGrid are using this as a reason to not have community consultation with landholders and all affected in a fair and consistent manner and have stated that ‘internal policy’ is preventing this from occurring. 

“Dr Joe McGirr was present at the meeting and he has been taking the HumeLink issue to parliament and he agrees that the process should be taking landholders into account.”

Ms Finnimore said she received a response from TransGrid after she approached local member, Albury MP Justion Clancy.

“I proposed to them the running of the line through Green Hills State Forest, instead of imposing on landholders. They responded with, ‘Green Hills State Forest is a commercial operation managed by Forestry Corporation of NSW and plays a significant part in the regional economy.’ So, what about the hundreds of local landholders potentially impacted by the line? We too are commercial and provide hugely to the regional economy,” she said.

“They haven’t actually personally asked me for my opinions or thoughts on the project; they are making assumptions without really listening to the community or being present.”

Ms Finnimore described the meeting as a “very successful starting point”, but admitted there was still a long way to go.

“We are in this for the long haul. A final investment decision will be made late 2021 for the approval of the project. People power will hopefully make TransGrid stop and rethink,” she said.

“This hasn’t gone to planning yet. We need to be consulted properly and have a real seat at the consulting table.”

The community approved three motions: 

Motion One: The rural communities of Yaven Creek, Lower Bago and Willigobung totally reject HumeLink project and associated industries proposed corridors through our farmlands (carried unanimously).

Motion Two: there will be no individual meetings with affected landholders until all avenues are exhausted to consider the alternatives through crown land. We will only hold meetings in the presence of community representatives (committee) (carried unanimously).

Motion Three: The Yaven Creek, Lower Bago and Willigobung community, after holding a meeting on 26th July 2020, have unanimously shown support that farmland is too important to put at risk and the HumeLink TransGrid power lines will be blocked at all cost (carried unanimously).

“Our chair of the committee Matt Pearce has written a letter on behalf of the committee to TransGrid detailing to them the Motions that were passed unanimously at our meeting,” Ms Finnimore said.

“It was also stated that from this day forward as per our community wishes stated in the declaration, TransGrid are to communicate through the Yaven Creek, Lower Bago and Willigobung Community Committee. 

“We have urged farmers to stick together and voice their concerns through the committee which will in turn deal with TransGrid.

“While acknowledging the need to build necessary infrastructure to take New South Wales and Australia forward into the 21st Century, we seek to maintain, protect and sustain the beautiful natural terrain, the flora and fauna native to this area and protect our agricultural enterprises and land holdings,” Ms Finnimore concluded.