THE Dungog community are calling on government officials to resurrect the failed Tillegra Dam site after news Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro would support major dam projects in regional NSW.
Now eight years since the controversial 450 gigalitre water infrastructure was shelved in the final hour of four years of planning and development, a group of locals are lobbying the state government to put political pride aside and reinvigorate their struggling town.
Dungog business owner Michael Dowling has followed the divisive proposal since it was first suggested in 2006 and is at the forefront of a new campaign, ‘We need water, we need Tillegra Dam’.
At the time of its collapse, the dam proposal was deemed unjustified, not in the public interest and have potential impacts on producers and power stations down stream with potential affects to water flows.
But, Mr Dowling said recent dry conditions and the growing population in the region only made the plans more relevant today.
The government talks of water security could hastily be made a reality by finishing the Tillegra Dam, he said.
“We talk about the drought, we talk about the long term water security and we have a proposal that can be built in a time frame that would leave others at the planning stage,” he said.
“The general consensus around the community, there is very little opposition, but our shire is failing severely and I guess we need a huge economic injection.
“It’s two pronged. We provide water security, we provide irrigation, we provide farmers with feed, we provide water to the entire lower Hunter and as an offset we then get the economic activity our shire is craving.
“It’s more than just a dam.”
Key investments are being considered for the $4.2 billion fund from the federal Government’s buy-out of NSW’s share of Snowy Hydro.
Speaking to The Land earlier this week, Minister Barilaro declared that dam infrastructure for regional NSW was among his priorities.
“Absolutely we will build dams,” he said.
“The time is right and I believe the political climate is right especially with sympathy for the regions with the drought so that we can move in this area now.
“We can also leverage money from the Federal Government to help with these projects. So we can turn $4.2 billion into $8.4 billion. Water security is of the highest priority.”
The failed project allegedly cost the NSW Government a $25 million loss with the 6000 hectare parcel of land designated for the site eventually sold off in 2015.
While it could be regained under government authority, the identification of endangered rare frog on the land was just another episode in the saga.
Mr Dowling was invited to Parliament House by state MP Michael Johnsen in April but believed the politician wasn’t willing to consider the “political hot potato” of the past.
He said additional water resources would be a major boost to agriculture production.
“I spoke to a gentlemen who owns quite a bit of land and he has irrigation licenses and he said he would put in two pivot systems as we speak if he knew he had a guaranteed water supply,” Mr Dowling said.
“We have seen dairying in our valley here go from 50 to 60 about 30 or 40 years ago to a dozen. Dairying has gone by the way side and obviously with the dry times it gets very difficult to grow enough crop.
“We are in 50 million dollars worth of backlog or repair and maintenance to our shire.”
The Land contacted Dungog Mayor Tracy Norman who declined to comment.
Hunter Water, a key backer of the Tillegra Dam proposal at the time, said they were not considering the proposal and water security in the Lower Hunter could be achieved without it.
“While dry conditions have had a significant impact on our region, recent rainfalls have replenished Hunter Water’s storages to 88.5 per cent, which is average for this time of year,” a spokesperson said.
“The whole of government Lower Hunter Water Plan outlines a range of options to provide continued water security in the Lower Hunter. The Tillegra Dam proposal is not included in the Plan.
“Consistent with government policy, Hunter Water is not considering the Tillegra Dam proposal.”
The Land submitted questions to Minister Barilaro and were awaiting a response at the time of publication.