Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Snowy-hydro 2 will significantly impact Kosciuszko National Park

The Snowy-hydro scheme, the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia, covers Kosciuszko, the largest national park in NSW, with 16 dams, hundreds of kilometres of roads, 80km of aqueducts, many pipelines, power plants, tunnels, associated large rock waste heaps, and vast numbers high tension electricity transmission lines cleared through sensitive subalpine woodlands.

Snowy 2, again mistreats the environment and ignores national park protection.  The proposal is sold as being critical to ensuring security of Australia’s electricity distribution system as National Electricity Market (NEM) becomes decarbonised. As reported in Bulletin 270, the proposed pumped-hydro scheme will also increase coal consumption by using off-peak electricity to pump vast amounts of water uphill. Pump storage does not generate green energy.

Colong Foundation submissions on the EPBC Act Snowy 2 project referral and NSW Upper House inquiry into the listing of it as Critical State Significant Infrastructure.

When exploration becomes development

The Snowy Hydro company has proposed exploratory works in the Ravine region of Kosciuszko National Park and if approved will deny public access to thousands of hectares of the park. The proposed “exploration” includes the 4.4 kilometre main access tunnel to the proposed Machine Hall cavern. The tunnel will be concrete lined D-shaped tunnel 8 by 8 metres wide. The 750,000 m3 of rock waste produced from this tunnel will be spread over 10 hectares of national park beside Yarrangobilly River, potentially on flood prone land. A construction pad requires another 20 hectares of national park to be cleared and the access portal and accommodation site a further 3 hectares. In total 114 hectares of national park will be disturbed. A new road will be constructed along a pristine reach of the Yarrangobilly River for about a kilometre and other major road works are required to make narrow 4WD vehicle roads into the valley suitable for truck haulage.

On this large and remote works site several nationally threatened fauna species have been identified including the Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus), Eastern Pygmy‐possum (Cercartetus nanus), Broad‐toothed Rat (Mastacomus fuscus), Boorolong Frog (Litoria booroolongensis) and Alpine She‐oak Skink (Cyclodomorphus praealtus). Despite this the consultants for Snowy Hydro reported in a preliminary environmental assessment that approvals under Federal law would not be required.

This is demonstrably wrong as the national park is listed as National Heritage and shall be significantly impacted by a huge amount of disturbance and exclusive occupation of thousands more hectares, perhaps with no compensation to the NPWS. Snowy Hydro may fear that a new Federal administration after the election some time in 2019 will have less enthusiastic support for Snowy 2.0 that comes with a $4.5 to 8 billion price range, depending on the extent of powerline transmission connections that are built in association with it.

Snowy Hydro has officially informed the Federal Government it does not have impacts on National Heritage. Their expert opinion is that 114 hectares of disturbance and exclusive occupation of thousands of hectares of national park, and closure of a camping ground is not a significant environmental impact. This opinion is out of kilter with past precedent where even a few square metres of disturbance of National Heritage was enough to trigger Federal environmental assessment processes. If this so-called exploration proposal is approved, construction of these major works will commence before the Snowy 2.0 pump-storage project is assessed under Federal or NSW law in true “Alice in Wonderland fashion” and Government expenditure will be locked in without adequate consideration of the project.

National Parks don’t count

The NSW Minister for Planning, Anthony Roberts, recently declared Snowy 2.0 – and all its associated new hydroelectric power generation and pump stations, the construction of a tunnel between Tantangara Reservoir and Talbingo Reservoir and the construction of additional electricity power lines and substations to be a Critical State Significant Infrastructure project. Before his decision, 40 drill sites had been approved in the national park as part of the 2017 “feasibility study”, which is not part of the exploration currently being assessed.

This decision has made the proposed Snowy 2, its contingent earthworks and clearing for transmission lines to be more important, in a technical legal sense, than the National Heritage listed national park where the works are situated. So it should not be surprising that Snowy Hydro is now seeking to make the park’s Federal National Heritage listing not matter as well, so legally only what Snowy Hydro proposes will matter in the environmental assessment.

This critical infrastructure approval pathway replaces the long-standing practice of avoiding new utility easements and infrastructure development in national parks with an easy pathway to bulldoze national park bushland without any recourse to an independent review of the decision.

There is an ever growing collection of damaging NSW Government decisions that have alienated components of several electorates who care about the environment. The inflexible nature of these infrastructure approvals of this nature increases the chance for administrative errors and that may in this case impact on Kosciuszko National Park. If approved, the subsequent park damage will happen behind closed doors of exclusive possession of the park. This approach to development control can only reinforce the view that the NSW Government is a poor manager of destructive infrastructure projects.