Main drain drags on

MINISTERIAL intervention could be required to address a possible stand-off over the Morwell main drain, according to Advance Morwell.

Land instability around the open drain, which runs between the Morwell mine and the Princes Freeway, forced the freeway’s closure from February to September last year.

Frustrated at what it called a “lack of progress” in resolving the main drain issues, Advance Morwell has suggested a possible stand-off over design, between International Power IPR-GDF SUEZ (Hazelwood) and the Department of Primary Industries, could be behind the delays.

Advance Morwell chairman John Guy said if delays in progressing the design and reconstruction of the drain were caused by a local strand-off, “then it’s probably about time the Minister (State Energy and Resources Minster Michael O’Brien) intervened”.

Mr Guy said he also found it “difficult to understand why Latrobe City is not taking a bigger interest in this matter”.

He said the local community could have no confidence the government was making “any significant progress in solving either the short term problem that occurred in 2011 or the long term problem of the diversion of the Morwell Main Drain away from the Morwell open cut mine.”

“We are facing winter 2012 and the potential for yet another closure of our freeway bypass with all the consequences we faced in February 2011,” Mr Guy said.

“It beggars belief that after so many months and the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars and with all the resources available to state and local government and International Power IRP-GDF SUEZ that we are no closer to solving this problem.”

He also claimed the government had failed to communicate with residents on the issue.

“Early in the process we were assured that residents would be kept informed, but this has not occurred.”

In response to concerns, the DPI issued a statement saying it was continuing discussions with International Power Hazelwood about the design of the new drain and that work was “well advanced”.

The statement said work had been carried out to “mitigate the risk of further land movement” including the issue of 40 notices to IPH requiring remediation work. That would include the installation of monitoring systems to pre-warn authorities should there be a further large-scale movement.

DPI said it had also issued IPH with notices requiring it to drill horizontal bores in the northern mine wall in order to drain excess water.

Further, it had convened an expert Technical Review Board to provide analysis and advice and conducted workshops with key agencies.

Mr Guy said that information was “old hat” and indicated nothing had progressed over past months since “they said the same thing in July (last year) and the minister issued virtually the same statement in August.”

Mr Guy said he believed IPH may have submitted “a number of designs” which had been rejected by DPI and “that’s the problem”.

He suggested debate about who would pay for the required remediation works was also likely to delay progress, particularly if IPH entered into a ‘contract for closure’ agreement with the federal government.

“They won’t want to pay for this, will they?” he asked.

Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley said council was an “active participant in meetings and discussions” on the drain issue and had “provided information and advice as requested by DPI”.

He said council was “keen for the design to be finalised in order that reconstruction of the drain can commence”.

An International Power-GDF SUEZ spokesperson said Hazelwood was “fully committed to being part of the solution for the Morwell Main Drain issue”.

He said the company was working “very cooperatively” with DPI on finalising a preferred design, and that the issue was a “very complex” one.