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Valley water supply negotiations at a stand still

Negotiations between Clarence Valley Council, Essential Energy and the NSW Government – to secure the valley’s water supply – have made little progress since a heads of agreement was adopted by councillors in June 2015.
Essential Energy is the current licence holder and owner of the water supply infrastructure and the associated disused Nymboida hydro power station.
At the June meeting, councillors resolved to “delegate authority to the general manager to … continue negotiations and discussions” with the relevant parties and to “receive quarterly reports with updates on any progress”.
In June, councillors were advised that: “There will be financial implications with regard to the proposal; however, at this stage of the process the extent is unknown.
“It is intended that, with the infrastructure works, suitable funding will be sourced from government.”
At the September council meeting, when the quarterly report was tabled, a curious discussion took place among councillors and staff.
Councillor Karen Toms moved the committee’s recommendation to ‘receive and note’ the report, in order to ask questions about the negotiations’ progress.
“There’s no mention of the penstock in the negotiations that are not happening yet – is there a reason why that is not a part of it?” Cr Toms asked.
A penstock is a ‘gate’ that controls the flow of water. At Nymboida, the penstock is integral with a 1.5 kilometre-long pipe that supplies the valley’s water.
Works and Civil director Troy Anderson asked Cr Toms which penstock she was referring to.
The mayor, Richie Williamson, commented that there were a “couple of them”.
Cr Toms said she was referring to the “main one that comes off the weir”.
Cr Williamson: “Yeah, there’s a couple of them; two … two.”
Cr Toms: “…There was only one pipe that I [could] see when I went there.”
Mr Anderson: “Which penstock and in what context are we asking the question?”
Cr Toms: “The context is: it’s my understanding … that where the water comes out of the … weir, out through the big pipe, that’s the penstock….
“…Are we going to [own] that conduit…? Or is that going to go into the hands of the state government…? Is that a part of the negotiations…?
Mr Anderson: That’s probably subject to further clarification and some detailed discussion, once we get to that point…. In regard to the transfer of the water supply, the infrastructure and the associated licences, it’s probably a little bit too grey and vague at this point in time to [determine] who owns what or who potentially owns what….”
However, according to information obtained by the Independent, there is only one penstock.
Two penstocks, which previously directed water to the now disused hydro station, have been removed.
The remaining steel penstock was constructed in 2008/09, which is 1.534 metres in diameter and cost around $7 million to construct.
Councillor Jim Simmons asked a question: Mr Mayor, when we went out there and had that onsite inspection … there [was] a penstock, or a couple of penstocks … why isn’t that addressed in the report here?
“…There was some discussion on the penstock or [pen]stocks … at the time, on site, by the Essential Energy gentleman [who] … gave us the tour.
Mr Anderson: “…The report at this point in time is just a status report as requested by council…. “…Any further negotiations … that we have with Essential Energy and the state … will be reported to council at a future point in time.
“…In regard to the comments from Essential Energy … at the site meeting … the official position from Essential Energy hasn’t been relayed to council, nor have we commenced discussions….”
Cr Simmons: Fine … but I just recall at the time … that there was discussion on those penstocks, whatever we refer to them as, and their use and their relevant importance….”
Cr Williamson: “I think there [are] two: one is capped and the other one is used for our water supply.”
Councillor Margaret McKenna wondered why there was no mention of the fish ladder, the construction of which is part of the current agreement with Essential Energy: “Is that something that you consider should be in our quarterly update that we’re going to get?”
Mr Anderson: “Councillor, yes that will be included in the quarterly update, but I consider that matter being dealt with in the weir….”
The Independent has previously reported that, according to Essential Energy’s general manager (asset management), Brian Green, the estimated cost to construct the fish ladder is “between $1.5 million and $2.5 million”.
Mr Green has previously stated that the fish ladder was being considered “independent of the heads of agreement”.