Pondage speech plan

Bryce Eishold

Morwell MP Russell Northe will raise the future of the Hazelwood Pondage in his first speech to Parliament this year, almost 12 months after owner ENGIE said it would close the pondage for public use due to dam wall integrity issues.

Mr Northe will use the speech to lobby the state government to intervene and work with ENGIE and Latrobe City in an attempt to keep the pondage open for future generations to “use and enjoy”.

Speaking to The Express, Mr Northe said he would call on relevant state government ministers to “not ignore” the fact the community asset could remain closed permanently if an alternate solution was not found soon.

“While ultimately the situation where we are now is that the pondage is unusable, camping on-site is due to be prohibited and unless the state government intervenes I fear the pondage will never reopen,” Mr Northe said.

“My speech will call upon the relevant ministers to not ignore this issue. We want the state government to engage in an urgent conversation with ENGIE and council with the objective of keeping the pondage open now and into the future.”

In November, ENGIE told a community forum it had no plans to refill the pondage or fix the dam walls and a final decision on its future would be made early next year pending an engineer’s report into the dam walls.

“There will not be any increase of the water level in the future. We must ensure we meet health and safety obligations to the community and we remain compliant of the guidelines,” Hazelwood mine lead Garry Wilkinson said at the forum.

But Mr Northe said he had been inundated with calls from community members and tourists who described the situation as a “crying shame”.

“We need to understand if this is possible [to save the pondage] and if this is feasible. We must explore every single opportunity to keep this unique body of water open,” Mr Northe said.

“I’ve had tourists who use the pondage contact my office. I’ve had local water enthusiasts who use the pondage contact me complaining about the situation.

“I’m in regular dialogue with the Latrobe Valley Yacht Club and also local businesses have contacted me to express their concern that their revenue is already being diminished due to the pondage being closed.”

It comes as ENGIE has started laying topsoil and mulch over beached areas of the pondage to mitigate dust from receding water lines which revealed clay and silt.

Morwell resident Don Duthie, a retired plumber, said the pondage needed saving regardless of the cost.

“We would like to have the pondage rebuilt and have it back to what it was before it was closed. It’s very important to the Latrobe Valley people,” Mr Duthie said.

“We have [had] it for roughly 60 years and it’s been a recreational source to everybody in the Latrobe Valley in that time. Half of the people in the Valley would like to sleep there – well the people in Morwell anyway.

“It’s part of our culture, it’s our heritage and in the past it’s been quite a money-spinner for the district so it needs saving.”

An ENGIE spokesman was unable to confirm how much it would cost to repair the dam wall’s integrity, however, ENGIE has told previous community forums it would cost tens of millions of dollars.