A farming group is rallying in the face of a $600 million waste incineration plan near Tarago.
Two members, fifth generation farmer, Simon Reynolds and wife, Felicity, fear Veolia Environmental Services' proposal for a $600 million 'advanced recovery centre' at the Woodlawn Bioreactor will have long-term impacts on agriculture in the region. They say they're "fearful and anxious" about their future.
The couple, who has a young son, run the 1500 hectare beef, lamb and mixed cropping property at Lake Bathurst, near Tarago. They're also part of a group, Longwater Agricultural Association Incorporated, representing 57 agricultural enterprises covering 63,000 hectares within a 40km radius of Woodlawn.
"(Longwater) sees the incinerator as a major threat to our livelihood and business," Mr Reynolds said.
"It doesn't matter how well you run it, our products will be tarnished by association."
The Post has sought comment from Veolia.
Veolia wants to burn up to 380,000 tonnes annually of residual waste feedstock, otherwise destined for landfill. The associated power plant would generate up to 240,000 megawatts of energy each year.
But more than 600 objections have been lodged on the state significant plan. Longwater's 47-page submission details concerns about "adverse effects" of emissions from high-temperature combustion, a "failure to assess worst case waste feedstock composition," "serious deficiencies" in the treatment and monitoring of emissions and "ongoing non-compliances associated with current site operations."
Mr Reynolds said many producers were worried they would lose accreditation for their "clean, green" products if chemicals from the incineration process entered soil and agricultural activities. Currently, they receive a premium if the produce is chemical free.
NSW Farmers Goulburn branch has strongly opposed the facility, saying that "toxic organic pollutants causing chemical residues in food and fibre, could threaten Australia's export market." Like the group, they want independent soil, air and water testing "in all directions" from the incinerator before the process starts, and then regular monitoring.
Veolia's human health risk assessment found there would be "negligible increase" in concentration of toxins in soil and water surrounding the development. In addition, it found that organic farming certification would not be impacted by the facility and water would be "safe to drink."
But state planners said this remained a major community concern in the farming community.
"The EIS has not provided any baseline information regarding the concentration of these chemicals in soils or water surrounding the site," the department's letter to Veolia stated.
"Additionally, Veolia has not proposed any monitoring of these chemicals in soil or water following commencement of operations."
Planners have asked the company to further consider how it will address this concern, should the project be approved.
Veolia representatives have also been holding further one-on-one meetings with objectors as part of its response to submissions. The planning department said submissions suggested the project "was not in the public interest" and asked Veolia to address its "social licence."
Company representatives met with Longwater this week. Mrs Reynolds said while it was a "good discussion", many questions were left unanswered. She has asked for hard data, including soil and animal testing around Veolia's reference plant in Staffordshire, proving there was no contamination from the process.
"The (Veolia) CEO said they were happy to monitor the site. But I say what happens 10 or 15 years down the track when it does affect us and our product is tainted. That's the biggest thing we want to get across - that our operation could be tainted by association," Mrs Reynolds said.
The group has criticised the Department of Primary Industries' response to the EIS. It stated Veolia's proposal had demonstrated "no adverse impact" on surrounding agriculture and had no further comment.
Mrs Reynolds said the response showed "a complete lack of understanding" and research.
"We are trying to get the message out to people in power on how it will affect us. I don't think anyone has thought about how it will impact," she said.
While the group had made "inroads" with former environment minister, James Griffin, current Labor Minister, Penny Sharpe had refused to meet with them, the Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said Ms Sharpe had vehemently opposed an incinerator proposal before the election and wanted the government to ban such technology but had taken no such stand against the Woodlawn proposal.
"The state government has a problem with Sydney's waste. They don't want to put it in Sydney's backyard but seem happy enough for it to be in the regions," he said.
"...It's not just us that are affected. That's why we formed the group. We like to think we're a force to be reckoned with."