Dam was not costed, memo reveals
Matthew Moore Urban Affairs EditorJuly 2, 2009
THE NSW Government announced construction of a half-billion dollar dam just six weeks after receiving advice from a top Hunter Valley water official that the cost of the project had not been properly studied.
A memo from the managing director of Hunter Water, Kevin Young, released yesterday reveals that the Tillegra Dam on the Williams River near Dungog was not even under active consideration when, four months before the 2007 state election, the Iemma government announced the project.
Mr Young’s memo, dated September 28, 2006, advised senior staff in the office of the minister for water, David Campbell, that “the cost of Tillegra Dam has not been robustly quantified” and was one of a number of projects due to be considered as part of a long-term plan for water supply.
Mr Young wrote his memo after a request from Mr Campbell’s staff for briefing notes of any projects under consideration in the Hunter. The premier then promised the dam was a priority project.
The project is opposed by many locals and by the NSW Greens MP John Kaye. They say there was never any serious planning done for the dam, which Hunter Water has rated in the past as the second least desirable option after desalination.
Last year Dr Kaye won the support of the Legislative Council to force the Government to produce all documents containing plans and costings. While many were tabled, some were withheld on the grounds that release was not in the public interest, including Mr Young’s memo.
The former NSW chief justice, Sir Laurence Street, reviewed it in January and recommended it be released on public interest grounds. The Government made it available yesterday.
Sally Corbett, chairwoman of the No Tillegra Dam Group, said the memo “confirms the community’s suspicion that the decision was ad hoc, uncosted and unplanned and was made with absolutely no proven justification. It’s a disgrace.”
The project, estimated in the budget to cost $477 million, is due to proceed once an environment assessment is finished, even though existing dams are 85 per cent full and water restrictions have not been in place in the Hunter for nearly 30 years.
A spokesman for the Water Minister, Phil Costa, said the project was an opportunity to address underlying supply shortage in the Hunter and provide water for 160,000 extra people expected to move to the region in the next 20 years.