Mixed reaction to Warragamba Dam EIS release

Warragamba Dam wall. Picture: Chris Lane
Warragamba Dam wall. Picture: Chris Lane

The hefty Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Warragamba Dam wall-raising project was released last week and has drawn criticism and praise from different sectors.

Western Sydney minister Stuart Ayres praised the release of the document, which is thousands of pages long.

"This is a significant milestone in the delivery of raising Warragamba Dam wall," he said.

"It's an extensive, even exhaustive, environmental impact statement."

Interested locals have until November 12 to review the documents and make their submissions.

The long-gestating project has previously drawn criticism and concern from Indigenous residents, scientists, environmental action groups, local councils, politicians and even UNESCO.

Wollondilly Council will hold an extraordinary meeting on Friday, October 8, to discuss the EIS.

Colong Foundation for Wilderness general manager Harry Burkitt called the document's release "simply the latest act in ongoing political farce".

"After four years in which we have seen prolific government leaking, opposition from the Australian insurance industry, protest from traditional owners, condemnation by expert consultants, hostility from UNESCO and objection from the [now former] Deputy Premier, the NSW Government has now allowed Minister Stuart Ayres to proceed with the exhibition," he said.

"The project would nevertheless greatly benefit Stuart Ayres' plans to develop large swathes of the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain.

"Raising Warragamba Dam is the most profound attack on Australia's World Heritage in decades. Planning Minister Rob Stokes acknowledged this in his decision to downgrade the state planning significance of the project.

"The EIS is a document littered with mistruths and undercooked figures attempting to justify the destruction of priceless Indigenous heritage and some of Australia's most threatened species."

Meanwhile, the Property Council of Australia called for the wall to be raised "as quickly as possible" following the release of the EIS.

The council's western Sydney director Ross Grove said the project would have a "vital role" in protecting communities in the floodplain.

"For this to be effective, it is important the raised portion never be used for general storage," he said.

"We will seek this assurance from the government and will ask for conditions be imposed on any approval to guarantee this will occur.

"Delivering the right mix of flood infrastructure today is an important part of protecting our communities tomorrow.

"The Government will need to be swift and decisive in delivering the wall and supporting infrastructure if we are to protect homes, communities and lives."

Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle said the document fell "far short" in its assessment of the true impacts of the environment and Indigenous cultural heritage.

"I am outraged that this proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall is still being considered," she said.

"I vividly recall when... Stuart Ayres stood on the flood plains and proudly declared that there would be development as far as the eye could see, which raises serious doubts about the real motivation for this project."

An Upper House committee published an interim report on the proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall and recommended the NSW Government give more consideration to alternatives, with a greater focus on improving evacuation routes and reducing the number of people and businesses at risk on the floodplain.

The committee recommended that the project not proceed without the free, prior and informed consent of Registered Aboriginal Parties and unless the future integrity of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area can be assured.