Angry residents who say they had not been properly consulted about plans for a mammoth overhead transmission line that is proposed to run through many properties gathered at Myrniong on Saturday.
The Western Victoria Transmission Network Project will deliver an approximate 190-kilometre-long overhead electricity transmission line from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Sydenham, north-west of Melbourne.
In order to do so, a new terminal station will be constructed north of Ballarat, with 85-metre tall towers constructed across the region to support 500kV transmission lines to the Sydenham Terminal Station.
With renewable energy projects such as wind farms popping up across the Western Victorian landscape, the project is being undertaken to allow for current and existing renewable energy sources to be shared with the rest of Victoria.
Related coverage: Generational farmers opposed to massive new powerline project
Myrniong resident Emma Muir organised the community meeting, which was attended by a variety of people from across the region.
Those who attended did so for a variety of reasons - some were farmers, others tree changes and one couple who had only just settled on a property only to learn of the transmission network project.
While most understood that progress has to happen, they want more consultation and other, less imposing options to be considered.
On June 5, Ms Muir's husband received a phone call which "blew him away". While the pair knew about the project, they were not aware that the powerlines were mapped to run through their property until that call.
The person on the other end of the line told them that their family farm had been identified as an area where towers could be installed. A letter was received, and a meeting was organised the following week.
During this meeting, Ms Muir said none of her questions about how big the towers would be, how much land would be required, if they could farm under them or their potential health impacts were answered.
She said she and her husband were told the company had a plan in mind, including where the towers would be installed.
Ms Muir and her husband have a prime lamb and beef cattle production and also grow some crops.
The proposed alignment would run through four kilometres of their property - essentially cutting straight down the middle.
"We gave them a list of reasons why economically, environmentally and for health reasons why it was not possible for us to have those towers on our property."
While they were told they would receive some compensation, Ms Muir said it was not a matter of a small payment.
"It would dissect the whole property, making it pretty much unviable to continue our livelihoods," she said.
"It is just horrendous - we haven't slept since and we haven't talked about anything else. Our whole world has imploded.
"But then I realised it wasn't just us."
Ms Muir said the community had since rallied together to fight the proposed plan.
"We have to look after ourselves and we have to look after every member of our community - that's so important," she said.
The land the project is proposed to run through is productive, fertile land that is perfect for farming. It is also abundant with native wildlife.
The residents are fearful of the monumental impact it could have - they say it could ruin families' livelihoods, and cause potential health and environmental impacts.
While it could have an immediate impact such as by prohibiting irrigation for potatoes, it could mean farmland which has been in the same families for generations could lose their financial and farming value.
In the last decade, Ms Muir has worked with a Landcare group to plant tens of thousands of trees and fears they would be cut down to make way for the towers, while wildlife and water supplies could also be impacted.
At the meeting, Ms Muir encouraged residents to form advocacy groups within their own communities and encouraged people not to sign any contracts with AusNet until more information is communicated.
She wants to see better consultation with communities and for other options such as underground powerlines to be considered.
Not only would this be more aesthetically pleasing and less impactful on residents, but the pathway is also a growth corridor and a bushfire-prone area.
"It needs to be done the right way. Do the right thing, not the cheapest and easiest thing," she said.
Let's find a better solution that doesn't impact as many families and communities. We deserve a better deal and are going to stand up and be heard.Emma Muir
"Let's find a better solution that doesn't impact as many families and communities.
"We deserve a better deal and are going to stand up and be heard."
Springbank farmer Donna Simpson and her husband have six sons, as well as grandchildren.
They have been told towers could be constructed along the length of their property. Similar to others in attendance, it has caused them immense stress.
The family have been in the area for more than 150 years and worry this could mark the end of it if their productive land is ruined and health affected.
"This could be absolutely catastrophic," she said.
There were also some famous faces at the meeting - Andrew, Bernard, Stephen and Margaret Curry.
While they are 'weekenders' and do not yet know if their property will be affected, they attended to support the community.
The family has a property at Gordon, which their father purchased in 1962.
The property is "very special" to the family - the siblings grew up visiting it and their children now do, too.
"The main reason that we came is in solidarity with the community," Andrew Curry said. "I think too often corporations who may or may not reside in Australia just look at the numbers on paper and just draw a straight line from point A to point B and say: 'that's where it's going'.
"They don't consider the impact to the community.
"We just want to make sure that we do our part and that it affects people as little as possible."
IN OTHER NEWS
AusNet Services was appointed to deliver the project in late 2019 and on Wednesday announced it is currently consulting with landowners about the potential route.
On Friday, Hepburn Shire Council mayor Licia Kokocinski voiced her "extreme" concern about the project given the council had been provided limited information about its alignment, the location of the terminal station and how AusNet was communicating with landowners.
She said the council had formed a working group with other affected councils, such Moorabool Shire and the City of Ballarat, and called for a public community information session to be held.
Some residents believe AusNet may already have determined the route, though earlier this week the company denied this.
In a statement to The Courier, Ausnet said that an area of interest had been determined but not the exact route and it was consulting with communities and landholders.
The company expects the project to be completed in 2025.
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