ENGIE pulls plug on Hazelwood Pondage

Bryce Eishold

The Hazelwood Pondage will be permanently closed from today after ENGIE confirmed it had completed an internal review of technical reports which found the dam’s walls “no longer complied” with national standards.

In a statement, ENGIE said the pondage would be permanently closed to all public access due to ongoing concerns about the structural integrity of the dam’s walls.

“As the owner of the pondage, we’re responsible for managing these risks, and we simply will not compromise on community safety,” Hazelwood Rehabilitation Project director Tony Innocenzi said.

“We understand that community members and users of the pondage will be disappointed with the loss of such a well-known asset, but we see no other option.”

Latrobe City mayor Graeme Middlemiss took aim at ENGIE, claiming he was surprised it had made the decision to close the pondage “so quickly”.

“I’m rather surprised that they have taken this action so quickly as council was in discussion with ENGIE only on Wednesday as to what could be done to retain the pondage as a community asset,” Cr Middlemiss said.

“Only the week before, we had similar discussions with the Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes. Council was certainly of the view the matter had yet to be decided.”

Cr Middlemiss said council met with ENGIE engineering experts and consultants last week in “an attempt to understand what work and at what cost would be required to return the pondage walls to a safe standard”.

“I had hoped these discussions were ongoing. So really council has to step back and reassess the position,” he said.

“Almost certainly we could not save the pondage without state government assistance but we were also exploring that. I think our community would be extremely disappointed this discussion has been taken so quickly.”

Member for Morwell Russell Northe, who has campaigned for the state government to intervene to save the pondage, said the “news is not surprising at all”.

ENGIE temporarily closed the pondage in June 2018 following a report from dam experts which found the pondage walls had “deteriorated significantly” with age since construction in the 1960s.

Dam experts found the pondage’s walls no longer complied with the requirements of the Australian National Committee for Large Dams.

The findings were later confirmed through an independent third-party review, ENGIE said.

“Rightly or wrongly ENGIE for some time have made it clear that they have no interest in maintaining the pondage for recreational use and activities,” Mr Northe said.

“That is why we have made vigorous and numerous approaches to the state government to intervene with the view to take over responsibility for the pondage and the pondage precinct.”

In February, Mr Northe called on Resources Minister Jaclyn Symes to meet with ENGIE, Latrobe City Council and community groups to find a solution for the pondage – launching a petition which has so far gained 3000 signatures.

“I would still like to see the state government work with ENGIE on what are the solutions, what are the costs with the objective to reopen the pondage for current and future generations to enjoy,” Mr Northe said.

In a response, a state government spokesman said ENGIE had to make sure the site remained safe and stable for the community.

“It’s very disappointing to see that ENGIE has decided to lock the public out of the privately-owned Hazelwood Pondage, but community safety must come first,” the spokesman said.

The state government also said fisheries estimated the pondage had several hundred barramundi remaining which were still accessible to anglers.