Summers of their discontent

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Devastated and fearful is how Michael and Judy Summers feel at the thought of seven 58-metre transmission towers earmarked for the middle of their Borden farm.

The towers are part of Western Power’s 280km Muja to Wellstead 330kV transmission line for Grange Resources’ $2.57 billion Southdown magnetite mine, 90km east of Albany.

The mine is estimated to have a life of 19 to 40 years and initial production is due in 2014.

The Summers are one of more than 100 families concerned about the transmission line.

They say the proposed route comes within 200m of their sheep yards and less than 2km from their home.

They are powerless to stop the construction and fear it will impact on the farm business, their health, lifestyle and land value.

Mr Summers said the time, effort and money invested to improve the farm and maximise arable land could go down the drain. He said on top of potential crop loss, they feared the towers would present obstacles for moving equipment and aerial spraying.

“The towers could also potentially interfere with our electronic equipment, such as GPS, ” he said.

Weed spread during construction is a concern and compensation won’t cover the loss of the unspoilt beauty of their picturesque farm.

Mrs Summers said she was not anti-development.

“We actually think the new magnetite mine will be good for the Albany region in terms of employment and economic growth,” she said.

“We feel that there must be a better way to minimise the impact this has on smaller businesses like ours.”

Duranillin farmer Ian Pierce believes biomass power generation is a possible alternative and would help the mine and farmers work together.

But so far, he said the process had been stressful for farmers and neighbours.

Western Power has liaised with landowners since 2006 to select a suitable route. But discussions stopped when Grange was subject to a reverse takeover by Chinese controlled Australian Bulk Minerals in January 2009.

Last May, Grange asked Western Power to progress approvals for power to the Southdown mine, a joint venture between Grange (70 per cent) and Japanese company Sojitz Corporation (30 per cent).

Grange Resources managing director Russell Clark said Southdown was at the defined feasibility stage and a project decision was anticipated during the first quarter of 2012.

“The power supply project and all associated infrastructure are the business of Western Power and any public enquiries relating to the project, including matters of community engagement, timelining and project logistics, should be directed as such,” Mr Clarke said.

While farmers are concerned about the impact the mine will have on their business, Mr Clarke said it would lead to the creation of 600 local jobs, inject $60 million in salaries and see the Albany Port expanded.

The Southdown project budget has allocated $317 million to fund power provision, but it’s expected to cost $350 million to build.

The mine has the green light for a new berth at the Albany Port, which requires significant dredging and signed off a 100km route for its slurry pipeline to the port.

A Western Power spokesman said a study into power supply options found a network connection for Grange was needed.

Western Power was still investigating two line route options between Muja and Kojonup, including upgrading the existing 132kV line.

But the route between Kojonup and the mine, which passes near the Summers farm, has been selected.

Current designs show 660 structures will be needed along the transmission line but this could change in the final design.

The Western Power spokesman said the height and design of the towers was determined by factors such as voltage, type and size of conductor, distance between towers, topography, design standards and requirements.

“Based upon the voltage and design of the proposed line, Western Power will acquire a 60m wide (30m either side of centreline) easement along the entire alignment,” she said.

“Farmers will still be able to crop or run livestock under the lines and in normal operating conditions, we have found no interference issues for GPS devices.

“Western Power intends to undertake further community consultation when a decision on the final line route between Muja and Kojonup is made and/or when more information is available.”

Under legislation, compensation to landowners affected by the proposed transmission towers will be a one off payment assessed by the Valuer General’s office.

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