Apr 17, 2024 | Local News

Mary Valley benefits to come from Queensland Hydro

Vivienne Wynter

Earlier this year, the Queensland Government announced a $5 million community benefits fund for the region hosting the proposed Borumba Pumped Hydro project. Here, The Pineapple fleshes out details of announced and unannounced benefits and impacts for the Mary Valley.

When Imbil Family Medical centre closed early in 2023, some residents of the tiny forestry and fishing town were very unhappy.

The town, south of Gympie, has no public transport and the loss of a GP clinic and allied health services was a blow.

Enter new corporate citizen on the block, Queensland Hydro (QH), the company created by the Queensland Government to manage the Borumba Pumped Hydro project.

QH are keen to attain social licence to construct and operate the $14 billion dollar project which will have major impacts on Imbil and the Mary Valley.

Imbil health service to reopen

As a gesture of good faith, QH is reopening the health service in Imbil before exploratory works for the project have even begun.

The Pineapple understands QH is finalising an agreement to open the health service, return a GP and possible allied health services and pay the rent and utilities for three years.

A spokeswoman for QH said the company was working with local Public Health Network, Country to Coast, to restore and support the health service and will shortly announce more details.

‘Queensland Hydro is delighted to be able to facilitate the return of critical services to the Imbil region,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘The re-instatement of a local GP is one of many ways our proposed Borumba Pumped Hydro Project will bring real benefits to the community.’

The new health service will co-locate with QH’s office in Imbil in the same premises as the former Imbil Family Medical service.

The reopened health service will share premises with Queensland Hydro. PHOTO: Brea Martin Photography

Funding to extend Rail Trail, build Mountain Bike Park

As part of the same community benefit announcement, QH is funding early works on stage two of the Mary Valley Rail Trail (MVRT) – subject to Gympie Regional Council’s (not yet been released) feasibility study.

The current MVRT is a short 4.7km one-way trail from Booloo to Imbil.

Stage two extends the trail 10km from Imbil to Kandanga.

Stage three extends 6km from Kandanga to Amamoor, making a complete rail trail close to 21km.

Cycling enthusiasts say short rail trails are less likely to attract tourists while a 21k trail would be a game changer for tourism in the Mary Valley.

Craig Thomson says the Mary Valley Rail Trail benefits locals and boosts the local economy. PHOTO: Brea Martin Photography

Mary Valley Rail Trail Association President, Craig Thomson, said the extended MVRT also offered increased health and well-being benefits and social inclusion for residents.

‘‘As well as boosting the local economy through active recreation and nature-based tourism, we think the Mary Valley Rail Trail will be an enduring legacy for our community,’ Mr Thomson said.

The government also announced funding for a new Mary Valley Mountain Bike Park and walking trails.

Possible aquatic restoration project

Not yet announced are community benefits still under discussion.

The Queensland Conservation Council is confident of ‘significant investment’ from Queensland Hydro for a project restoring the Mary River catchment’s aquatic species.

QCC Director Dave Copeman said the QCC was determined to see the Borumba Pumped Hydro project mitigate and avoid environmental impacts.

‘This is an important catchment with significant ecological values,’ Mr Copeman said.

Queensland Conservation Council Director Dave Copeman

‘We are in talks with QH and want to see early investment in work to protect and restore some of the threatened aquatic species likely to be impacted.

‘These include the Mary River Cod, the Australian Lungfish, the Mary River turtle and the White-throated Snapping Turtle.

The Mary River Cod. PHOTO: Gunther Schmida

‘Those aquatic species have been subjected to over a hundred years of colonisation and human behaviour and are already threatened.

‘The QCC want to see significant investment to restore the populations.

‘Investment in the order of millions of dollars is necessary.’

Investment welcomed, with a caveat

Businesses, Gympie Regional Council and some community groups have welcomed the promised benefits while some stakeholders argue ‘you can’t buy social license’.

‘Investment in the environment and community is welcome and the way to get social licence is to follow proper process in constructing Borumba Pumped Hydro in the first place,’ one member of the BPH Stakeholder Reference Group said.

He said there needed to be transparency with allocation of community benefit funds ‘ideally though an independent assessment panel’.

The reference group member said QH could be at risk of appearing to be offering funds to environment groups in return for supporting the Borumba Pumped Hydro project.

Sunshine Coast Environment Council Advocacy and Engagement Manager Narelle McCarthy is also on the BPH Stakeholder Reference Group and said she understood how allocation of funds could be viewed as buying social licence.

Narelle McCarthy supports proper process around allocation of community benefit funds

Transparency needed

‘It’s understandable such funding could be viewed this way which is why any funds allocated to environment projects needs to have a  transparent framework and not be tied in any way whatsoever to any stage of the Borumba Pumped Hydro project going ahead or not,’ Ms McCarthy said.

‘Any proposed initiatives would need to be over and above what obligations QH would be required to deliver under all statutory assessments, such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, in the event of any approvals.

‘It’s welcome that QH understands significant investment needs to be made in the affected communities and in the Mary River catchment.’

‘Any community investment from QH needs to be managed with high levels of governance.

‘Going forward, the SCEC believes any future community benefit funds should be allocated in a transparent governance framework overseen by an Independent Panel of stakeholders using agreed criteria.’

Improvements to Imbil roads and bridges

Aside from the official Community Benefits program, Queensland Hydro is proceeding with local road projects which are being treated as separate from Borumba Pumped Hydro, and are not subject to an Environmental Impact Study.

QH says it’s working with Gympie and Somerset Councils and the Department of Transport and Main Roads, on widening and upgrades including drainage works along Bella Creek and Yielo Roads.

QH is also planning to build temporary and longer term accommodation for up to 2000 workers on site with construction expected to commence later this year.

QH CEO Kieran Cusack said the first two worker accommodation camps (called the Borgan Camp and the Walkers Top Camp) would be temporary and on freehold land owned by QH and the Queensland Government.

Proposed locations of Workers Camps. IMAGE: Queensland Hydro

‘Construction of the two temporary camps will provide accommodation for up to 168 workers throughout the exploratory works stage of the project,’ Mr Cusack said.

‘The camps will be operated 24/7 and include recreational facilities such as a gym and outdoor exercise areas.’

First Nations peoples a priority

The Borumba Pumped Hydro project will also affect the traditional owners: the Kabi Kabi people and their country, which they say contains sacred and ceremony sites.

A group of Kabi Kabi people have lodged a native title claim over land from north of Brisbane to south of Bundaberg, including the Mary Valley where Borumba Pumped Hydro is proposed.

The claim is not for exclusive use and is only on non-freehold land such as vacant or unallocated state land and other non-freehold lands like national park, some leasehold properties and reserves.

A successful native title claim means acknowledgement of the Traditional Owners and could provide them with a right to negotiate with others about how land is used and managed.

Queensland South Native Title Services CEO Tim Wishart said the Kabi Kabi native title claim was likely to succeed.

Queensland Native Title Services CEO Tim Wishart

‘The indications are that the Kabi Kabi Native Title application will result in a consent determination,’ Mr Wishart said.

We are optimistic this will occur this year.’

QH says is committed to meaningful engagement with First Nations peoples.

‘Queensland Hydro is in the process of negotiating Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).

‘Queensland Hydro is committed to cultural enrichment and will work closely with First Nations communities and the Traditional Owners to identify opportunities and co-design programs to ensure thoughtful and meaningful benefits are delivered.’

 

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