Wollondilly Council condemns 'disingenuous' dam wall EIS

Warragamba Dam. Picture: Simon Bennett
Warragamba Dam. Picture: Simon Bennett

Sham. Mistruth. Disingenuous. Flawed. Riddled with errors.

These are just some of the words Wollondilly councillors have used to describe the thousands of pages in the newly-releasedEnvironmental Impact Statement for the proposed Warragamba Dam wall-raising project.

The proposal has drawn criticism since the process was first launched several years ago from Indigenous residents, scientists, environmental action groups, local councils, politicians and even UNESCO.

Following a joint motion by all sitting councillors at an extraordinary meeting on Friday, Wollondilly Council resolved to strongly reassert its opposition to the proposal and undertake several other measures, including seeking to work collaboratively with Blue Mountains Council, informing and educating the community on the major issues and concerns within the EIS, launching a community petition against the project and allocating $40,000 from council reserves to assist in achieving their goals.

Councillor Matthew Gould said the EIS "shows bias towards the project" rather than being objective, highlighting the benefits downstream and "downplaying" the impacts upstream.

He said the damage raising the wall would do to the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was "unfathomable", especially concerning the highly significant Indigenous sites of the Gundungurra people, which would be lost in the inundation.

"They are one of the very few groups that have Dreamtime stories directly linked to a physical location," Cr Gould said.

"The majority of those waterholes have already been destroyed when the Dam was created, and if the wall is raised, the rest will go as well.

"Despite the irreversible damage this will do to the Indigenous heritage, they only looked at 27 per cent of the area and only did field studies for 25 days.

"This is rough country, and it's not easy to traverse - the idea that they could do a comprehensive Indigenous study in 25 days [is unbelievable]."

Cr Gould said SMEC, the company which completed the EIS, had been barred by the World Bank "because of their history of cultural assessments that are abusing Indigenous rights".

He also highlighted the massive impact construction would have on the Warragamba community (which would be "decimated") and the likely extinction of several species of endangered flora and fauna upstream.

"We need to be doing what we can to push back and highlight the many flaws because it's going to have a huge impact on Indigenous heritage and a huge impact on the north of the shire," Cr Gould said.

Councillor Judith Hannan said it was "interesting that the EIS has taken four years and it has come up with such a flawed report".

She said she did not believe this project was truly about protecting the communities that currently live in the floodplain downstream.

"If this was just about protecting them and never putting another house on that land, perhaps some of us could understand this project," Cr Hannan said.

"But the money they would spend on raising the dam wall could buy out the people in the flood-affected areas and assist them in moving to another area.

"For me, this EIS is another step of the government setting down the area it wants to move into to increase houses and development downstream - it's not about protecting anything."

Councillor Noel Lowry agreed: "If they do raise dam wall, more people going to be impacted in the future, not saved," he said. "This is not a safety issue. There are far better ways of spending billions of dollars."

Councillor Matthew Deeth said, "when we look at what we risk to lose here, it is far greater than what we stand to gain".

"I've said it before and I will say it again, there are alternative solutions that have not been fully explored or properly costed so we can have an informed debate as part of the EIS," he said.

"We need to ensure all other avenues are exhausted."

Cr Gould closed the meeting by highlighting that even if there were not a drop of water in the dam, there would still be massive flood risk in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.

"It is possible to have a very significant flood without Warragamba Dam [waters]," he said.

"There will always be flood risk and to try to pretend otherwise is completely disingenuous."